"Film o luđacima koji i sam mora izgledati kao da su ga napravili luđaci."
This film is often classified as the first South African cult movie, an insane asylum-set satire that remains an arrestingly bizarre spectacle, outdoing similarly themed films like THE NINTH CONFIGURATION and KING OF HEARTS in provocation and sheer weirdness.
To fully understand this movie requires at least a smidgen of knowledge of South Africa’s apartheid era, which writer-director Jans Rautenbach was satirizing. His previous effort, 1969’s KATRINA, has been called the most controversial film ever made in South Africa due to its questioning of apartheid-instituted racism, and FAREWELL JOHNNY furthers those concerns, albeit in a more symbolic and abstract form.
For whatever reason, FAREWELL JOHNNY (JANNIE TOTSIENS; 1970) is little known outside South Africa, despite its exalted reputation therein--it’s been called the “CITIZEN KANE of South African films,” a claim that may well be accurate.
Johnny, a catatonic college professor, is brought by his parents to a strangely gothic, cat-filled insane asylum. Its inmates include Franz, a military man who thinks he’s still at war; Linda, a grown woman who behaves like a little girl; and Aunty, a witchy middle-aged lady. There’s also a one-armed painter, an elderly judge, a black servant who serves as a receptacle for the inmates’ racism, and an absurdly straight-laced psychiatrist who oversees the asylum, and is as nutty in his own way as his patients.
In this atmosphere of unfettered madness Johnny emerges from his shell somewhat, although when his mother visits he retreats back into catatonia. He starts up a tentative romance with Linda, who identifies him as “the man in the moon.” The other inmates oppose the relationship, not least because one of them, the schizophrenic English gal Liz, is in love with Johnny herself.
Auntie especially disapproves, believing Johnny is “Satan.” Aunty and Franz gang up on Johnny and drop him into the asylum basement, where he’s attacked by cats. He manages to escape, only to confront a much greater horror: the asylum director wants to have Johnny discharged. He, however, wants nothing more than to stay put, as he’s “learned how to love” in the asylum.
During a new year’s eve party the director announces that he’s going to discontinue psychoanalyzing his patients in favor of a more impersonal drug regime. The following morning Liz is found dead, having committed suicide because of her thwarted love for Johnny. A mock trial by Auntie, Franz and the judge is held against Johnny, who’s found guilty of having caused Liz’s death, and given a mighty stiff sentence…
Highly fragmentary and episodic in nature, FAREWELL JOHNNY is anything but predictable. In place of a linear narrative, writer-director Jans Rautenbach lavishes copious amounts of screen time on individual characters and their delusions, which are depicted more often than not via off-screen sound effects (a la THE NOAH).
Each character represents an aspect of South African society in the 1960s (while the titular Johnny allegedly represents Jans Rautenbach), and all are extremely well cast. The dialogue could admittedly have used some work (example: “my love is stronger than your pills!”), but otherwise FAREWELL JOHNNY is an impeccable depiction of insanity both personal and societal.
The proceedings are marked by stark, noirish photography that places great emphasis on light and shadow. Typical are shots through stairway columns and lamps, with various objects occupying, and often obscuring, the foreground.
The art direction is also integral to the overall effect. The bleak, claustrophobic interior where most of the film takes place rivals most movie haunted houses in its overtly gothic architecture, and there’s a stained glass window whose multi-hued illumination enhances the insane atmosphere. For good measure, a wealth of phallic balloons and creepy marionettes are also present, and generously displayed throughout (particularly during the peerlessly creepy opening credits sequence).
It makes sense that a movie about lunatics should itself appear to have been made by crazy people, and that’s definitely the case with FAREWELL JOHNNY.
The Cinema of Jans Rautenbach
WHY IT DESERVES TO MAKE THE LIST: Jannie Totsiens is rather like Milos Forman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, only far, far more weird, disturbing and funny than that Oscar winning film. Jans Rautenbach’s film is a microcosmic view of South Africa circa 1970 and an indictment of the blinkered Afrikaner Nationalist enforced attitudes and very dubious morals of the time.
COMMENTS: Allegedly autobiographical in tone, this was South Africa’s first film in the avant-garde genre, one of its very few horror films, and also its first black comedy. It is now known to be an allegory about the South African situation in 1970 – showing said situation and the country’s inhabitants in the milieu of a home for the insane whose inmates’ lives are flipped by the arrival of a catatonic, mute mathematics professor, the “angel of discord”, as he is referred to by one of the loonies. Among this merry little band, we find a jilted bride (Hermien Dommisse) whose wedding portrait depicts her holding the hand of a faceless man who locked her up in this house until she went insane, a knife wielding nymphomaniac with Bible thumping parents (Katinka Heyns), an ex Ossewabrandwag soldier with an uncanny resemblance to John Vorster (Don Leonard), a judge (Jacques Loots) who went mad (and consequently hangs up the plants in the asylum’s hothouse in a makeshift gallows) after his daughter’s killer was let off scot free, and a psychotic, lovesick woman (Jill Kirkland) who continuously writes unsent letters to her dead daughter. Other characters include the sane, disabled artist Frans (Phillip Swanepoel) whose parents locked him up in the asylum because they were ashamed of him, and the Director of the asylum (Lourens Schultz), a weak-willed, gambling, drinking good-for-nothing, almost as mad as those he cares for, whose only purpose in life is to give injections and make his inmates swallow pills. The seemingly mad and mother-fixated Jannie Pienaar was supposedly based both on director Jans Rautenbach’s treatment by the critics and some of the more sensitive sections of the South African community, and Rautenbach’s experiences as a clinical psychologist. He finds himself restored to life because of two major factors: a love triangle which involves him and two of the inmates and the horrific finale when, on the suicide of one of those inmates, Jannie is condemned to death by hanging. For real. Not by his neck, but by his feet.
One would have to go very far back or far forward into the future of the South African film industry’s history to find a film as horrific, comic (yes, it is very funny in parts) and perfect as this, with brooding photography (courtesy David Dunn Yarker and Koos Roets, ACS ), an eerie credits puppet show in which the spectre of death intrudes and is frightened away, haunting music by Sam Sklair and oppressive, claustrophobic set and art design. To unsuspecting first time viewers, this film’s impact is still felt months and years later. Judging by its’ initial reception in 1970, it is clear that the movie going public in South Africa did not know that they were actually looking into a mirror with themselves as the subjects, notwithstanding the fact that each viewer of this film feels like they have just been dinged on the head with a very large, heavy board when the film ends.
Bruce Lee says in Enter The Dragon, “Boards….. don’t hit back.” This one does.- http://366weirdmovies.com/recommended-as-weird-jannie-totsiens-johnny-farewell-1970/