A gritty no-holds-barred drama.
Tess is a hard-hitting journey into the heart of a young prostitute who sells her soul on the streets of Cape Town.
Tracey Farren adapted her novel to film, with Meg Rickards in the director’s chair.
Sassy twenty-year-old Tess (Christa Visser) sells her body on Cape Town’s streets. She survives by popping painkillers by the bunch and through her wry humour. But her life turns upside down when she falls pregnant. Though Tess tries to run, her past torments her. She begins to question her own sanity. Tess ﬁghts back, ﬁghting her demons, searching for the truth.
When she abandons her daily ritual of popping pills, awful pictures from her past ambush her mind. But Tess does not allow herself to collapse. Instead, she learns – perhaps because of the baby in her belly – to connect with the people around her. The Congolese refugee next door (Nse Ikpe-Etim0 treats her like a daughter. An impotent client shows her his heart. Tess finds sanctuary among strong women in a belly dance studio, and discovers she can dance up a storm. With new courage she tracks down her childhood friend, Dumi, who helps her to face the truth of her past.
“The fact that Tess is a sex worker is almost incidental. She’s a young woman who is undergoing a tumultuous journey: facing the truth of her childhood, coming to terms with it and moving forward with her inner dignity intact.
She is so unﬂinchingly honest that your skin itches; you feel her suﬀering like a punch in the gut and her catharsis like a purging of your own emotional closet.
We have shot a ﬁlm that inhabits Tess on every level; where the cinematography, sound design and music are all about her experience of the world.
We wanted to get into her eyes, to feel what she is feeling. Most of the ﬁlm is handheld, because we want to create the feeling that the camera is present with the actors, moving, reacting and breathing with them.
Stylistically we were inspired by the organic, “honest” quality of ﬁlms such as Fish Tank (dir. Andrea Arnold) and Biutiful (dir. Alejandro Iñárritu), while working in a very diﬀerent setting and with an extremely diﬀerent set of social realities.
We have used exclusively found locations, bathed in intense African light and colour. The editing style prioritises emotional arc rather than continuity.
Dialogue is in raw “street” Afrikaans and idiomatic South African English. The score is a brooding and pensive mix of guitar-driven ambiences, often blurring the lines between music and naturally occurring rhythms like heartbeats and train tracks.