In a recent issue of Film Comment, Alissa Quart gives the genre of Altmanesque tapestries to which films like Happy Endings, Magnolia, Crash, and Time Code belong a name that not only fits but one that might be clever enough to stick: hyperlink cinema. Quart asserts that the common DNA of these “post-web” productions is a “click-here-we-want-your-eyeballs” mentality, and insofar as Mark Bamford’s Cape of Good Hope takes place in a world far beyond the “web-based, video-game-loving culture” of Los Angeles, you may think the hyperlink label doesn’t fit (to be sure, Bamford doesn’t want your eyeballs as much as he wants your heart, sometimes by any means possible). But Cape of Good Hope is a hyperlink film in the sense that it asks audiences to process information in much the same way Crash and Short Cuts do. Location is very much its own character and Bamford toggles back and forth between narratives in ways that a revelation in one plot thread fills in a missing link in another: Kate (Debbie Brown), a white woman whose relationship to a married man blinds her to the affections of a local vet, Morne (Morne Visser), works at an animal shelter with Sharifa, a Muslim woman trying to conceive a child with her husband Habib (David Isaacs, a ridiculous over-actor), and Jean Claude (Eriq Ebouaney), a Congolese gentleman who becomes a father figure to a young boy, Thabo (Kamo Masilo), and later romantically involved with his single mother Lindiwe (Nthati Moshesh).
Bamford and his co-screenwriter and wife Suzanne Kay don’t necessarily use the film’s story as a political calling card. There are moments that acknowledge—if not necessarily tackle—the difficulty immigrants face trying to secure work and a few off-the-cuff remarks about AIDS, but Cape of Good Hope is meant to showcase that people in post-Apartheid South Africa (in Hout Bay, Cape Town to be exact) struggle with more than just politics, violence, and racism. As Jean Claude explains to a group of kids at the local planetarium at which he volunteers, it’s love that holds the planets together. This should be the same force that brings these people together, but social pressures get in the way of them doing so. Finding that love, then, becomes the impetus of their lives—at least to some of them.
It may be an insult to lump the film in the same category with a monstrosity like Crash, but just as Paul Haggis’s film exaggerates social malaise to coddle liberal guilt, Cape of Good Hope goes in the opposite direction by downplaying the difficult social conditions in South Africa. (One is fueled by self-righteous anger, the other by a stiff upper lip.) The class and economic divide between blacks and whites is meant to speak for itself, and it does so in the sense that some of the interactions in the film seem to be motivated by some character’s pent-up frustration with the system (how it works against them or maintains a white status quo), but if one of the film’s narrative threads isn’t starving for nuance, namely Sharifa’s struggle to get pregnant, then it borders on the soap-operatic. The best moments (Lindiwe’s romance to Jean Claude and his decision to stay with her) are tender but few and far between; the worst—like the Reverend Poswa’s (Yule Masiteng) abandonment of Lindiwe after she’s falsely accused of stealing from her white employer; Habib stroking his massive-sized ego—aren’t eye-opening but shrill.
Bamford may be asserting that life in South Africa can be as mundane as life in Los Angeles, but his evocation of this notion of banality is clumsy compared to Altman’s more elegant presentation in Short Cuts. The acting is forgivable for being rough around the edges but Bamford’s idea of comedy can be condescending. That the story’s peripheral characters—from Kate and Lindiwe’s arrogant mothers to Reverend Poswa and the man who tries to rape Lindiwe—all happen to be the closest things to villains (and, as it so happens, symbols of everything that’s still wrong with the country) suggests an unwillingness on the part of Bamford and Kay to ever let anything remotely nasty get in the way of the love stories between Kate and Morne and Lindiwe and Jean Claude. In Bamford’s feel-good vision of Africa, which, admittedly, has its laconic charm, the good guys are obviously delineated from the bad, and when one of the bad ones falls in a puddle of mud, the good ones—all easily rewarded by film’s end—are there to point and laugh. Like Haggis, Bamford confuses audience pandering for hope.