Ben Nicholson LFF

BFI London Film Festival 2012: ‘Accession’ review

★★☆☆☆

Issue movies are always problematic. It is rare that the cause that they champion is not an important and worthy one, but their very nature mean that the art of storytelling and the creation of drama can often play second fiddle to making their point. This is absolutely the case with Michael J. Rix’s dark HIV drama, Accession (2012), which sets out to paint a picture of a young man who has contracted the virus and the lengths he may go to rectify the situation.

With the camera centred almost exclusively on the face of the protagonist, we meet John (Pethro Themba Mbole), a young black man living in a South African township. Unable, or more accurately unwilling, to find any work, he spends his days wandering the streets, fixing the odd DVD player for cash and trying to sleep with as many women as possible.

When John bumps into one such paramour, she informs him that she has been to a clinic and has tested positively for the HIV virus. After an initial burst of anger that sees him severely beat her, John is unwittingly informed by a friend that the cure is simple; one need only have sex with a virgin for instant alleviation. Needless to say, John’s wish for a treatment leads us down a dark path.

This is set of circumstances which are clearly prevalent within certain South African communities and so the film may be a shocking but realistic representation of things that people read about in the paper. That, however, does not make it an interesting narrative. With John starting out the film a low-life waster who we have little sympathy for, his descend into becoming an arch villain of horrifying proportions does not have any dramatic heft. We see the events, and they are utterly appalling, but we don’t ultimately feel much for John.

With the camera rarely leaving his face, Accession features a blistering performance from Mbole, yet without the peaks and troughs required to give him an engaging character arc. You come to wish that Rix had either widened his frame a little (literally and figuratively) or given us a more likeable and relatable character who can then fall tragically. The issue’s raised by Rix’s latest is certainly important, but you’re left feeling that John, and those he hurts, deserve more insightful treatment.

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Ben Nicholson

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