Opening this week at the Bioscope in Jo'burg and the Labia in Cape Town is South African indie pic Casting Me ... Yes, with the dots.
“Indie pic” is Varietyspeak for low-budget, or it was: Who knows what a low budget is nowadays? For the United States, probably under R50-million; for South Africa, more like under R10-million. As for Casting Me ..., did someone say R35 000 to make? That seems very little, even when you’ve got cameras and stuff lying around, and you work in a casting agency in Cape Town and your friends, lovers and colleagues all agree to work for nothing.
For this is what Casting Me ... does, a sort of Adaptation via Jack and Miri Make a Porno via ... well, anything with non-actors pretending to be actors or vice versa. One doesn’t want to have an argument about precisely where the line falls between actor and non-, but it’s to be seen wavering through Pasolini’s Arabian Nights, say, which is going as fiction, as well as in mockumentaries such as Best in Show, where actors do some masterful non-acting.
Casting Me ... basically mixes the freewheeling humour of a sort of mockumentary format with dips into a more romantic storyline, in which would-be writer-director Paul (Paul Snodgrass) pursues his interrupted passion with Chloe (Roxanne Prentice) through the script he’s writing about them and the casting agency where he works. This circular tale is put together cinematically with a minimum of fuss, mostly in expertly deployed black-and-white, but with enough cool nerve to provide cute little fillips all the way through.
Written and directed by Quinton Lavery, Casting Me ... is thus about the process of putting together a movie, which is to say it’s about itself, and there’s a fair amount of Charlie Kaufman humour to be got out of that too. Much of it works in the movie, but it does feel a bit repetitive — as I suppose it must be if it’s to make its metafictional point. (And I think I counted five montages to pop/rock/folk songs before we were halfway through the movie, which contravenes the De Waal Rule of maximum three per film. One character even suggests a montage to get through a romantic interlude, for heaven’s sake!)
For me, the less interesting bits of Casting Me ... were those in which the love-life part of the storyline gets kind of sincere and heartfelt, and this is perhaps where the line between actor and non-actor is most evident. Still, that’s also part of the aesthetic of a movie that is in a way pretending not to be a “real” movie, just a movie about a movie; and it’s no more cringey, really, than some of Andy Warhol’s part-time superstars rambling on about their breast surgery or whatever, or anything in Curb Your Enthusiasm or The Office.
What will be treasured in Casting Me ..., I think, and give it legs in whatever form, is the humour. It has some shriekingly hilarious moments; one involving a screen test with Colin Moss is almost historic it’s so funny. That alone is worth R35 000.