Tense throughout, two shocking moments help elevate this introspective, surprisingly humourful drama screening as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

Continuing in the best tradition of the Festival’s showcase of tense South African dramas following last year’s emphatic Necktie Youth, Cuckold follows Smanga (Charlie Vundla, also the film’s writer/director), his downward spiral after his wife leaves him for another man and newfound friendship with homeless high school acquaintance Jon (Louis Roux) who re-enters his life.

Cuckold unfolds as if it were a stage-play. There are four main characters and sparse locations, with the action mostly transpiring within Smanga’s home. Moments, quiet and otherwise, are shared between characters as Smanga and Jon both bemoan and ruminate on their lots, alternately switching to Smanga as he aimlessly carries on his daily routine.

Vundla, who could otherwise have been entirely morose, is unexpectedly droll in his approach to the character, his portrayal both a reprieve and a cuttingly wry insight into Smanga’s predicament.  Proceeding through a habitual three act structure, there are two instances in Cuckold, one towards the beginning and one at the very end which are supremely intense, heart in the throat moments of agitative drama for which the film is all the better.

The infrequent and near motionless conversations between Smanga and Jon, as with exchanges between other characters, are occasionally captured in singularly-staged shots, rendering entire sequences supremely restless as each player expounds infrequent expository strands of dialogue. Conversely, some of the quieter, dialogue-free moments, such as characters sharing a meal, or Jon surprising Smanga by crashing his sojourn in a pool, have a much greater impact.

Surely complemented by a heartrending ending, not quite a twist but still revelatory, it is these moments, among numerous others, that proffer Cuckold as a vehemently human, frequently engrossing drama.

Cuckold is screening as part of the Sydney International Film Festival

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