Fried Barry (2020)

Fried Barry (2020) at Fantasia

If Fried Barry, the feature debut of writer/director Ryan Kruger, is something of a trip, it comes with two formal introductions which in different ways help to orient bewildered viewers and to show them paths through its off-kilter trajectories. In the first, a presenter (Deon Lotz) appearing on a 4:3 television screen warns of the potentially offensive material found in films with an 18 certificate (“explicit language, nudity, and strong scenes of high impact sexual violence which could be graphic and disturbing to those at home”), before adding, “Certificates are there for you to make the right choice.” On the one hand this serves as a straightforward index of the adult content to come, while on the other it both frames and ironises the film we are about to watch as sharing the sensibilities of a VHS ‘nasty’ from the Eighties.

The second introduction shows Planet Earth from outer space, and ever so slowly zooms in on South Africa. This remote alien’s eye view of a nation will be maintained at ground level by the rest of the film, which, like an updated, relocated Liquid Sky (1982), finds that strange, sweet spot between smack use and space invasion. For while out walking at night in a heroin-tinged daze, not-quite-hero Barry (Gary Green), an imposing if mostly taciturn junkie, is drawn up into the sky, and returns as a curious if confused extra-terrestrial who wants to explore this new human environs with Barry’s borrowed body as his vehicle. Or alternatively, we are seeing Barry caught in a drug-induced psychosis that utterly alienates this feckless fuckwit from himself while also presenting a scenario in which he is – at least in his chemically altered mind – a better husband to his put-upon wife Suz (Chanelle de Jager), a better father to his neglected/rejected son, and a saint and saviour to the downtrodden whom he encounters on his strange, picaresque journey.

Either way, this is “a wild ride” through Cape Town’s gritty demi-monde, as Barry – always wide-eyed and addled, indeed ‘fried’ – hops from bar to club to bed to brothel to ‘wrong side of the tracks’ to hellhole to ‘loony bin’ to hospital, while himself falling somewhere between lost fool and Jesus figure. For, played by the striking, rubber-faced Green, who here reprises and expands his rôle from Kruger’s award-winning 2017 short film of the same name, Barry is somehow all at once robotic blank slate and naïve stranger in a strange land. Like the Thief from The Holy Mountain (1973), Kaspar from The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), Chauncey Garnder from Being There (1979), the Brother from The Brother from Another Planet (1984), Bubby from Bad Boy Bubby (1993) and prot from K-PAX (2001), Barry is an ingenuous traveller, like a newborn just emerged into the world. His outsider’s perspective defamiliarises every stop on this arbitrary itinerary, altogether abandoning the touristic map for the more marginal spots where the overlooked and the oppressed reside. Much as the world through which Barry wanders is priapic and venal, appetitive and carnivalesque, Kruger fills his ensemble cast with eccentric rogues, his narrative with small miracles, the dirty, disorienting visuals (courtesy of DP Gareth Place) with flashes of uncanny beauty, and the ominous, rumbling soundscapes (by Haezer) with odd, uplifiting grace notes. 

Fried Barry is concocted of a crazy clash of genres, styles and forms, complete with impossible births, magical healings, Superman-like flights (of fancy), intermissions (plus ads, naturally featuring Barry), chainsaw fights, shootouts and resurrections – and its underlying reality, though always there, comes filtered through a skewed, deeply stoned perception (messianic visions, fantasies of heroic salvation and delusions of being ‘special’) that gives everything a reeling, hallucinatory edge. This is a wildly othered odyssey through Cape Town, that may or may not involve an alien intervention. It is also a real shot in the arm for South African cinema, even if you will not envy its protagonist his crashing comedown. 

© Anton Bitel