LOGLINE - March 1994 South Africa. On the day of the first free election Lambert Benade will turn 21, and Uncle Treppie promises him the girl of his dreams. But, in this hilariously horrendous tragi-comedy, as a new world is born, two members of the white trash family are destined to die.
SYNOPSIS - In five days the first South African democratic elections will take place, after which there will be majority rule under a black governement. Tensions are high throughout the land, and no less so in Triomf, the poor white suburb of Johannesburg that was built on the ruins of the black community of Sophiatown.
The Benade family, who’d be considered hillbillies or white trash in the USA (Uncle Treppie fixes fridges, Pop’s a railway pensioner, his wife Mol sells flowers in the street, and their son, Lambert, is a slow-witted youth prone to violent fits) are so worried about the elections that they’re prepared for an escape north ‘when the shit hits the fan!’ Already things are not what they used to be in Triomf with half-caste neighbours having rowdy barbecues, and there’s a black family moving in. While, Sonny, who is an acquaintance of Lambert Benade, is waiting in the street to take back his stolen family land upon which the Benade house now stands! The action of the film revolves around Sonny, as well as around the dynamics within the Benade family. These are highly-strung, often horrendous and consistently hilarious.
It is the interaction between Uncle Treppie and the young Lambert that is the driving force behind the story. Treppie’s not just fed up with Lambert, but with the family’s poverty, their suffocating social isolation, and everything they stand for including their own history as Afrikaners, which he sees as clouded by lies and pretence. Treppie doesn’t really know what the solution to all this is, but the new South Africa is on its way, and he wants drastic change.
Co-incidence would have it that Lambert’s 21st birthday is on the first day of voting, and Uncle Treppie plans a special present for him: a meeting with a nice girl he’s met who might find a soft spot for Lambert. What Treppie really wants is to get Lambert out of the house and out of his life at any price. The action of the film revolves around Sonny, as well as around the dynamics within the Benade family. These are highly-strung, often horrendous and consistently hilarious.
The climax is truly explosive after Lambert discovers that his prospective girlfriend is a whore, and after Treppie, in his mad desperation, reveals a dark ‘family secret’. But in the end it will be Lambert and his black friend Sonny who triumph over Treppie.
Michael Raeburn (writer & director) was born in Egypt, a citizen of Zimbabwe and now, for political reasons, of South Africa. He has dedicated his life to African cinema. Having made many documentaries, experimental films and feature movies, TRIOMF is his most original work to date. It plunges us into a social milieu that has been seen on screen before. The film serves as an important link between the 3rd World and the 1st World, and between different racial groups, which has always been the purpose of all Michael’s films and of his books as well.
Some responses to Michael's work :
“THE GRASS IS SINGING” : "Karen Black triumphs in one of the most demanding roles of her career. The film takes us into a world as beautiful as it is harsh, and we can all but feel the heat that's so unbearable. It ends on a note of authentic ambiguity that few films attain."
Kelvin Thomas, Los Angeles Times
“JIT” : "This does for Africa what 'The Harder They Come' did for Jamaica.”
Time Out, UK
“JIT” : "Cool, très cool... Diabolically seductive."
“HOME SWEET HOME” : “An example of hybrid cinema in which the old
formulae are outdated."
Duel Ottana, Italy
NIGHT OF THE FIREFLIES (Publisher: David Philip) NOVEL : “Raeburn is no lightweight on the African continent. This book must surely rate as one of the stranger phenomena of postcolonial Africa.“
Mail & Guardian
Malcolm Kohll (writer) has worked as a freelance writer and producer since 1978. His first commissioned work was for the classic BBC sci-fi series, Doctor WHO; his first feature film as writer and co-producer was the $10 million The Fourth Reich (1990); and he developed and produced Secret Society, Julie's Geist, The 51st State and The Bone Snatcher for Focus Films.
DIRECTOR'S NOTE - TRIOMF is an African “Brutti, Sporchi e Cattivi” (Director : Ettore Scola - French title : “Affreux, Sales et Méchants”), with a touch of “Bagdad Café” thrown in. A movie that perturbs as well as entertains. It is at once authentically African and universally accessible as a story about a dysfunctional family. Written as a fable in the style of a Greek tragedy about death (the old apartheid South Africa) and rebirth (the new free South Africa), the story throws an original light on issues of prejudice by exposing the close link between race and class. Certainly, there has never been anything like it before from Africa !
Michael Raeburn - Cape Town, July 2008