By Don Simpson | February 3, 2013
Director: Harry Patramanis
Writers: Harry Patramanis, Jonathan Glatzer
Starring: Warrick Grier, Cara Roberts, Chad Phillips, Jessica Haines, John Herbert, S’Thandiwe Kgoroge, Susan Danford
We observe with utmost curiosity as Meryl (Jessica Haines) discards the contents of her purse — thus shedding her identity — into a trash bin somewhere in the midst of a South African ghetto. She promptly telephones the local police, claiming that she has been robbed, a lie that she recounts to her husband Richard (Warrick Grier) as well. This is the first of several somewhat oblique cries for help that come from Meryl as she frantically searches for an escape…but, from what?
Richard is a bit too distracted by his dire financial crisis to worry about Meryl’s happiness. With one [perceived] last chance at avoiding bankruptcy, Richard drags Meryl off to a secluded glass house that he hopes to sell to a wealthy Englishwoman, Anne (Susan Danford). When Richard and Meryl arrive at the house, they discover a sexy young couple — Vj (Chad Philips) and Renee (Cara Roberts) — with relations to the current owner, residing in the guest house. The presence of Vj and Renee seems to cause even more ill-ease within Meryl’s mind; she is particularly taken aback by Renee’s carefree state of toplessness when they first meet.
In his debut feature, writer-director Harry Patramanis channels the existential and psychological moodiness of classic Michelangelo Antonioni, Nicholas Roeg, Peter Weir and Wim Wenders, as Fynbos cares more about people’s actions and reactions, than plot development or action. Patramanis avoids drama as he quietly studies the divisions between people — whether definitively drawn by race or class, or existing in a purely psychological realm. There is an unconquerable gulf that presently exists between Meryl and Richard. They are unable to communicate and they no longer know each other; the glass house functions as the catalyst for the demise of their relationship. The house may seem idyllic to Richard, but Meryl feels trapped in the vast seclusion of a foreign land.
The palatial glass house is a minimalist monument to the wealthy, white people of European ancestry who continue to encroach upon the lives of the indigenous people. The seemingly endless acres of land that come along with the house holds an unfathomable amount of history; it seems to, in fact, predate history — or at least mankind. Watching capitalists — who are clearly only interested in the buying and selling of things — trudge carelessly across the terrain, while reminiscing about their own [insignificant] pasts, echoes like blasphemy in this heaven on earth. This modern brand of colonialism is all about bourgeois Europeans owning as much South African land as possible to create a safety buffer from those pesky poor, black people in the valley.
Fynbos may not be a ghost story, but there is something very supernatural about this place. Meryl floats across the South African fynbos like a ghost, as if the ever-swaying green and yellow ground-cover has lulled her into a submissive trance. When Meryl suddenly disappears, it is as if all this time she was merely an apparition. Come to think of it, each of the characters seem to just vanish into the ether once they leave the glass house. As their numbers dwindle, the narrative grows increasingly dreamlike; eventually, Richard is left to suffer in this nightmare alone.