A devout woman’s life starts to unravel when she becomes hooked on slot machines at the local casino in “Confessions of a Gambler.” World preemed at Dubai fest, this gripping story of addiction and faith, set in Cape Town’s working-class Malay Muslim community, should develop new fans for Rayda Jacobs, who not only adapted her own novel but also co-directs and stars, creating a sympathetic heroine who’s deeply spiritual yet profoundly fallible. Further fest play is assured, with offshore niche distribution and broadcast a possibility for this good-looking low-budget drama.
V.o. narration by middle-aged Abeeda (Jacobs), a fiercely independent, frankly sexual single mother, sets the scene. She’s a pious Muslim who wears the Islamic headscarf and prays five times a day, yet she likes risk and enjoyed a wild youth (shown in flashback). Her youngest son, Reza, is gay, a fact she tries to ignore.
Abeeda’s social life revolves around the mosque and a close-knit group of women who gossip and play cards. One day, best friend Garaatie (Nabeweya Scello) drags her to the casino, and she hits a jackpot with her first pull on the one-armed bandit. From that moment, she’s captivated by a vice her religion proscribes.
After Reza dies of AIDS, Abeeda finds solace of sorts in the numbingly repetitive motion of feeding coins into slots. When she wins, she tries to justify her habit by separating “dirty money” from “clean” in her wallet, but soon her addiction drives her to spend every penny she possesses. Ashamed of her weakness and desperate for cash, she continues to pray, but fears she loves the machines more than she loves God.
Jacobs’ tour-de-force turn as Abeeda is backed by convincing playing from the entire supporting cast, who portray rites of a Muslim community in almost anthropological detail.
Although shot on a shoestring, pic features some striking lensing that effectively opposes the flashy temptations of the casino with the soothing serenity of the mosque and solitary Cape Town shoreline. Other tech credits are fine, although the nearly wall-to-wall musical score becomes a tad obtrusive.
Pic would benefit from subtitles, as accented English is sometimes difficult to understand.