Tess, the film and prostitution in South Africa

Linda Schenck has seen the film and now shares her impressions of it in the review below. We get to meet Tess and learn about her impending, dark fate.

Tess is a young woman who lives a life of prostitution in Cape Town, South Africa and who gets through her days with the help of pain-relieving tablets from the chemists. She lives amongst other poor and marginalized people and stands on a remote part of the beach in order to pick up men. She is known for being cheap, which, of course, is a reflection of her own self-image. What will she do when she gets pregnant?

Sometimes one shakes oneself after watching a film like that, like a newly-awoken dog, and wonders “why did I put myself through that?” or “why didn´t I leave halfway through?”

Tess is a very well made, extremely well-acted film and it is perhaps for those reasons that one doesn´t leave halfway through. For it is also a violent film, even though the end of the film (without giving too much away), is somewhat of an attempt to pull us out of our gloom. Paradoxically though, I think the end of the film is its weak point, given how unrealistic it is.

Tess´s childhood, which is subtly revealed to us via suggestive flashbacks, is the story of many prostituted people: she was sexually assaulted as a child. The film focuses on her daily life, her interaction with her poor but close-knit group of women, their men, (who are either absent or drug addicts), and their children. Then comes Tess´s own difficult decision when faced with her own pregnancy.

I am glad that I have seen the film, despite the fact that it wasn´t easy to watch, partly because it is an important story, partly because of the amazing actors, not least Christa Vissa, who played Tess.

The film has won awards in South Africa and Vissa is known for taking on demanding roles. In an interview she was asked what message the public should take home with them from the film. She answered:

“I hope when you watch this film that the reality of abuse will hit you in the gut, because it´s not pretty and it´s not okay.” The message that without reservation sexual assault is reprehensible, cannot be repeated too often. Tess adds to the discussion on this subject and offers a couple of hours of tough viewing that will take a long time to fade from one´s thoughts and one´s memory.