'Looking Good' is an original, contemporary film about a change in perspective for those living with HIV and AIDS in Southern Africa.
In South Africa, more than 5 million people are infected by the HIV virus. Every day, hundreds of people die of infections connected with AIDS. Moalosi is one of the infected ones. If his story took place but several years ago, Moalosi would probably be dead now. Today, however, he and other HIV infected people can hope for a longer life and better life quality. After years of struggle and delay, the government of Pretoria has agreed to give the people antiretroviral meds which can delay the onset of AIDS for free. At present, some 40 000 people are taking them. Antiretroviral meds cannot cure the disease completely. Their effect consists mainly in retarding the reproduction of the HIV virus in the body, thus helping to reduce its negative impact on people’s health. However, they are not the universal redeemer; for a full effect, sufficient food and healthy life style are necessary. This is the very key of the discreet film by Teboho Edkins. After Edkins‘ previous film Ask Me, I’m Positive, this time Moalosi is introduced in the moment he gets his first dose of antiretroviral meds, bringing a new source of hope into his life. Even without our knowing his previous life and suffering, his spontaneous joy the moment he’s holding the meds in his hands show us the importance they carry. In the 40 minute footage, Moalosi’s 12 month struggle for gaining control over his life is depicted. The struggle, however, does not come to an end by the end of the film, its result being far from being decided. Looking Good is a rather intimate film. The filmmakers are almost at home in the private space of the protagonist which he leaves but scarcely. (There is hardly a scene without Moalosi being present). The filmmakers have resigned from any situation or commentary coming from the outside; moreover, they can only enter the intimate zone of Moalosi’s life as far as the reticent protagonist lets them. The method of assuming an absolutely subjective perspective brings along the risk of the resulting portrait being one-sided or even shallow. On the other hand, Edkinson’s approach is sympathetic for the fact that he can do without effects we know too well from sensationalist media. Thus there are no naturalist scenes of mental or physical suffering in the film. Since the filmmakers never tried to depict the terrifying symptoms of the disease, the film can focus on the no less substantial yet frequently overshadowed (by the very naturalist effects) struggle with an evil as big as the AIDS pandemia. Any struggle with a disease is primarily a struggle with oneself; to win it, one needs not only luck and meds (both of which seem to be pretty rare in Africa) but also a great discipline, a strong will to live and a strong will to change one’s life style and life perspective. While Maolosi not only has to regularly swallow his dose of meds but also radically change his life style, the African society, in case of the spreading AIDS disease, must do much more than handing out meds; the whole social climate, which has been overlooking or even denying the disease, must change. When joyful Moalosi boasts with his first dose of meds to his father, the old man reminds him of the responsibility for a successful treatment; not only for his own sake but for the sake of the society. He tells Moalosi to set an example by his behavior. From this point of view, the scene with the Indian doctor scolding Moalosi for smoking is of interest. She wonders how, with cigarettes on one side of the scales and life on the other, Moalosi can still hesitate with his choice. This, however, is a perpetual problem. There is nothing like a bare human life. Every life takes place in certain conditions and has certain attributes. For a strong smoker Moalosi, there is not the choice of “cigarettes or life” but “life with or without cigarettes”. Each has its own “advantages”, to calld it like that. Even for a mortally sick man, the smell of tobacco can be a greater motivation. Again, the case of Moalosi’s struggle with the disease shows that biological life itself is not the main value of the human existence. Our decisions in the question of “life and death” depend on the quality and sense of the life we live rather than on a mere instinct of self-preservation.
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