Sink is a sleek, harrowing and powerful South African domestic drama, written and directed by Brett Michael Innes and starring Anel Alexander, Jacques Bessenger and Shoki Mokgapa. Sink, a title that works in English and Afrikaans, is a feature film debut for Innes, whose extensive history as a documentary filmmaker and photographer have given him great insight into human nature and a good eye for what works visually.
We watch a story unfold as the past and present converge. A Mozambican domestic worker must decide whether to go home or continue working for her South African employers, who are responsible for the tragic death of her only child. Sinkprobably derived its title as an allusion to the kitchen sink realism genre and also doubles in terms of mood and circumstances.
While controversial social issues and kitchen sink drama are at play, Sink has a clinical Scandinavian style setting with the majority of the drama taking place in a cold, pristine, sparse and modern suburban home. The contrasts are converse as the plight of a young black woman is juxtaposed against the guilt and alienation of a white couple, whose marriage is distanced even further by the tragic incident.
The mood of this drama may make you sink in your chair, maintaining a similar tone to depressing and intense social dramas about high school shooters in the United States. There’s a lot of heartache, carried forth by the blue tones and turmoil in the trio of performances that hold this small, modest yet elegant film together.
“I can’t tell if you want to kiss or headbutt me…”
Anel Alexander has proved herself as one of South Africa’s most talented actresses, underscoring this point with yet another heartrending performance as Michelle Jordaan. She’s captured the frustration of the modern woman with a character whose lofty white-picket-fence ideals are derailed by creeping insecurity and guilt.
Sink is a film with two strong female characters with Shoki Mokgapa countering Alexander’s “Madam” with an “Eve” haunted by her daughter’s death and delimited by her socio-economic status. Her subtle performance is quietly heartbreaking and full of anguished surrender. Jacques Bessenger completes the triangle of grief with a convincing turn as Chris, a distracted yet likable husband trying to escape the despair of a difficult home life.
Much like Maid, Sink could have gone much darker, but restrains itself from lunging into the realm of the thriller, opting for a more poetic approach by focusing on water as a symbol for emotion. Shots of the pool convey their state of mind and add to the murky morality as painful reminders reverberate.
While a little jarring at first, we soon pick up the visual cues to decipher the past and present, with the lighter tones and memories of Maia contrasting against the melancholy of uncertainty, guilt and depression. It’s not an easy-viewing experience, but follows each character’s arc concurrently as it builds to a moving and powerful third act as these strands intertwine.
Sink is a little slow-moving at first, but this is a full body immersion as you go from air to bubbles. The drama catches up with us in the third act, giving you time to walk with the characters, pick up on their out-of-control inner worlds before breaking the dam walls of emotion with the trauma of the central event as past and present finally collide.
Sink is a stark and moving social drama, powered by sharp performances and swathed in sleek visuals and production design. The film works expertly within its budgetary limitations, concocting an insightful international calibre drama with great finesse. While it takes a little while to gather momentum and borders on bleak, the conclusion is breathtakingly visceral and the insightful kitchen sink realism makes Sink powerful and emotive as it all comes crashing down.
The bottom line: Powerful
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