Layla Fourie, the detected lie detector
by Bénédicte Prot
12/02/2013 - Pia Marais’s film evolves between truth and lies, black and white
With her third feature film Layla Fourie [+see also:
film profile], presented in competition at the Berlin Film Festival, South African director Pia Marais, who has lived in Sweden and Spain and studied in Amsterdam, London and Berlin, continues to create a roving cinema from which isolated characters stand out: in this case, her main character is a single mother, trapped in silence and lies, with her young son as her accomplice.
However, during the lie-detector job interview that acompanies the credits at the beginning of the movie, Layla (Rayna Campbell), a single black mother from Johannesbourg, hoping to make a better living, proves that she has the integrity required to become a professional of the polygraph. She also says that she understands that there is no middle ground between telling the truth and lying, the latter always presenting itself as a dangerous spiral. She is thus hired on the spot and sent on a mission, several days away by car from Johannesbourg. Since the father of little Kane does not want to look after him in her absence, she leaves with her child on the long drive. The mother and son have nearly arrived when a terrible accident takes place: she hits an animal and a mature white man. Before the eyes of the boy and paralysed by fear as she looks at the two still breathing bodies, she tries, after killing the animal, to take the seriously injured man to a hospital, which is closed, then to the police station, where the colour of her skin and that of her victim discourage her from pursuing her hesitant endeavour. In any case, in the meantine the man has died, so she decides to abandon the body in a dump.
Once arrived, with Kane prowling around, stubbornly trying to escape her watch all the time, she goes about her mission, helping a big casino to hire several flawless employees, including a driver. It is for this final job that Eugene applies, played by August Diehl. Despite Layla’s reticence, as she feels obliged to stick to purely professional relations, the young white man invites her and her son for a ride in his car, and then to stay for dinner with his step-mother. Layla then realizes with horror that she and Eugene are worried about the sudden disappearence of the woman's husband and Eugene's father, who the fits the description of the man she ran over. After making Kane promise to keep quiet about the terrible events of the previous night, she firstly lies by omission. However, Eugene’s suspicions and the police’s arrest of a possible “culprit”, force her to really betray the truth, especially as the promise she asked of her son is a pact to which she also swore, even if it renders her moral position and her growing relationship with Eugene untenable.
Rapidly, between her natural integrity and her duty towards her son (that of observing her vow of silence, but also of avoiding being seen as a criminal and taken away from him), Layla begins to suffocate in such a way that a large part of the film is spent scrutinizing her attitude and the way in which the truth, which nearly comes out through Eugene’s, then his step-mother’s, troubling suspicions, always threatens to be exposed, while at the same time giving the “friendship” that develops between them an odd tone. Everything is made more complicated by the very clear contrast that exists between the colours of their skin – and in truth, it is really this rift which still exists in South African society that also lies at the heart of Layla’s decision to keep quiet.
(Translated from French)