TIFF 2015: Cuckold

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Smanga (Charlie Vundla) has hit a low point in his life. His wife Laura (Terry Pheto) has left him for another man and he has lost his job at a prestigious South African university, where he was the first black professor, due to his alcoholism. Spending his days drinking and smoking his homegrown weed, Smanga has no idea how he will pay the amount owed on his mortgage before the bank forecloses his house.

One night while drowning his sorrows at a local bar, Smanga runs into an old schoolmate Jon (Louis Roux), a failed motivational speaker who is living out of his car. Believing his self-help training can get his reluctant former classmate to break out of his rut, Jon attempts to show Smanga there is more to life than self-pity. Realizing that having another presence in the house might actually be good for him, the lonely and volatile professor invites Jon to stay with him for a few days. As the pair rekindle their old friendship, and start a weed selling business in the process, Smanga’s life beings to look like it might actually be heading in the right direction. However, things take an unexpected turn when a remorseful and battered Laura shows up looking to move back in.

Despite a few inspired moments, Charlie Vundla’s Cuckold ultimately hinges on how much the audience is willing to tolerate the central character. Smanga is written in a way that makes him tough to root for. He spends so much time wallowing in his blow-up pool of rage that one cannot help but wonder if he is the maker of all that plagues him. It also does not help that Vundla’s Smanga comes across as abrasive even in moments when he is suppose to be expressing compassion.

As a result, the film does not draw the viewer in on the emotional level one would expect from this type of narrative. Smanga’s moment of reckoning, where he finally makes a decision which will impact his life going forward, feels more like an afterthought than the powerful sequence it should be. While Vundla clearly shows a lot of promise as a cinematic storyteller, some of the film’s most intriguing moments involve Laura’s unstable ex-boyfriend, the pieces never fit as smoothly as one would hope. Though it will be interesting to see what Vundla comes out with next, Cuckold just did not hit the emotional beats I was hoping for.