Local film Farewell Ella Bella might struggle to find an audience

City press review: Farewell Ella Bella

Director: Lwazi Mvusi

Starring: Jay Anstey, Sello Maake Ka-Ncube

Farewell Ella Bella is the feature film debut of young director Lwazi Mvusi, who also wrote the script.

It’s the first feature film to emerge from the Emerging Black Film Makers Transformation Fund, which provides financial, marketing and other related support to emerging black film makers.

Best known for her role in Isidingo, Jay Anstey plays Ella. Stuck in a rut, Ella works a waitressing job in Beaufort West and takes care of her alcoholic father, who’s a jazz musician.

When her father passes away, Ella embarks on a road trip with her godfather Neo (Sello Maake Ka-Ncube) to Johannesburg to bury her father’s ashes and hopefully start a new life.

The script is pretty paint-by-numbers for a coming-of-age road trip movie – the road acts as a metaphor for Ella’s emotional journey, with tears, laughter and colourful characters met along the way.

It would work, except Ella and Neo don’t feel realistic and one never really connects with them. The emotional scenes never have the intended clout and the comedic intervals feel a little slapstick.

In one scene, for instance, Ella and Neo book into a guesthouse owned by an Afrikaans woman. Later, they overhear her shouting over the phone at her ex-husband, with such clichéd dialogue as: “No you can’t keep the dog!” and “I hope she gives you chlamydia!”

The film’s biggest problem is that it has no clear audience, and one can’t help but think it was created purely for film festivals.

Though there’s some nice cinematography and promising elements here and there (Ella’s kitchen altercation with jazz club owner Rose was probably the strongest scene), the story never quite strikes a chord.

Nevertheless, 28-year-old Mvusi definitely has directing chops and I appreciated how she draws back the emotion in scenes to stop them from becoming melodramatic or overly theatrical. It’s heartening to see a young black woman behind the lens, and the film boasts an all-female production team.