Smanga (played by Cuckold’s director and writer, Charlie Vundla) has been living at the bottom of a bottle ever since his wife left him for another man. After losing his job as assistant professor at a prestigious South African university, he invites an old school friend, Jon (Louis Roux), to live with him in the hopes that Jon’s positive outlook will somehow rub off on him. When his wife, Laura (Terry Pheto), returns, Jon continues to live with the couple, and an unusual threesome blossoms.
And whilst Cuckold is ostensibly about a polyamorous relationship of sorts, the narrative is focused squarely on Smanga. Which is a problem, as Smanga is so deeply unlikeable that it’s hard to feel anything close to sympathy for him. When we first meet him, he punctuates his alcoholic stupor by firing off rounds into the bush, hiring callgirls, and watching aggressive porn on the internet. Rarely does he come across as someone that Laura would marry, let alone return to. Equally, Vundla’s flat performance doesn’t warm us to Smanga. We learn nothing about Jon and Laura that isn’t there to service the plot and place the film’s protagonist on a pedestal. We never get an understanding of why either of them would ever jump at the chance of being in a threesome with someone so utterly self-centred.
Vundla attacks his own film with a scattershot approach that sees story threads being picked up and dropped on a whim. Take for example, the films’ Breaking Bad moment when Smanga and Jon decide to deal marijuana to help pay the bills. It’s a subplot that infuriatingly goes nowhere and is completely forgotten about upon Laura’s return. There is, however, a small moment of restraint in the film’s closing moments that suggests that more focus from the director will reap better results. The film screens at The Sydney Film Festival as part of this year’s festival focus on South African cinema.