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Ingrid Jonker: Her Life and Times
Genre Documentary
Year: 2001

Ingrid Jonker: Her Lives and Time is a biographical documentary based on the life of South African poet and artist, Ingrid Jonker. The film examines her place within society, from her position during Apartheid in South Africa to the vantage point of Nelson Mandela’s famous reference in Parliament. No one can deny that the woman was gifted, and this documentary reflects on her life while acknowledging influences: from regimes to lovers. Her suicide at the age of 31 in Three Anchor Bay immortalised her poetry and eccentricity. Her network of artists, friends and lovers recall heartfelt and amusing memories of the young Ingrid Jonker, while her poetry, excerpts from her diaries and recordings form the fabric of this comprehensive documentary.

Ingrid Jonker: Her Lives and Time details an intimate account of her life story from her days on Clifton beach to her eventual suicide in 1965. Her father’s domineering influence is established as a strong and negative force on Jonker’s life, and her troubles with men all seem to point back to this notion. The documentary portrays Jonker’s father as the monster in this tragic tale as his political affiliations and misogynistic tendencies seep out of the pages. The film quickly cements him as the “murderer” and her as the “victim” by contrasting their ideals, personalities and agendas. This conflict gives the piece momentum and instills a retrospective analysis similar to Medical Detectives. However, these detectives are more curious about the woman behind the words, than her untimely demise. Helena Noguiera is the detective in charge of this investigation, and her painstaking attention to this multi-faceted account are both its strength and weakness. There’s no finger pointing, and the objective is set on celebrating her vivacious character, political aspirations and position within South Africa history.

The documentary succeeds in compiling a rich, diverse and interesting account of a powerful South African artist. The film inadvertently exposes the community and cultural context of Afrikaans poets/writers from the era, and reminds us of the creative freedom that existed despite the government’s best efforts at censorship. The three-way dynamics keep Ingrid Jonker: Her Lives and Time moving at an intense yet steady pace with hundreds of photos, video clips, recitals and interviews. All this proves that this literary documentary is the definitive exploration on Jonker.

However, the documentary feels overly long and the array of visual photographic effects and enhancements tends to wear thin. The music and editing make Her Lives and Time feel like a murder mystery. This spin works in creating a frenetic tone, but becomes tiresome on the back of the hard facts. She committed suicide, and no matter how much trauma her father caused, it was her own undoing. Thankfully, they start with the end and avoid hanging the tragedy out until the conclusion like the depressing Sylvia, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. While Ingrid Jonker trumps the hollow drama on Sylvia Plath, it doesn’t have the production values and finishes it deserves. The slamming prison door sound loses its effect after several instances. Then the tirade of affairs gets more attention than her poetry and makes her life seem like nothing more than a frog leaping between lily pads. The burning focus on her affairs suggests that she sought approval and definition from all the men in her life.

Jonker’s documentary does unearth some controversial new insights with Andre Brink speaking openly about his relationship with her after 30 years of silence. One can also appreciate the time and effort expended in producing this documentary. Helena Noguiera’s six year excavation is invaluable as a multimedia showcase of the author’s life. Ingrid Jonker: Her Lives and Time gets full marks for attention to detail and its in-depth examination, however this is also its weakness. The film becomes so heavy with comments, perspectives and talking heads that it begins to sink. The style would be better suited to television in a similar groove to the documentary on celebrity photographer, Annie Leibovitz. While the documentary would benefit by being split into two one hour segments.

Swallowing this condensed documentary sandwiched into one-two-hour-gaze is too taxing to make the experience enjoyable. Instead of appreciating an insightful download, it becomes a matter of information overload. The slow, steady downward spiral diminishes the experience, and eventually the combination of high detail and depressing twists overwhelms. Noguiera’s documentary on Jonker would be better served as a two part series as it suffers from an indigestable heaviness when taken in one single dose.

The bottom line: Definitive.

5.67/10 ( 3 Votes )
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