I just spent a month in South Africa, and eeish...that's one inspiring nation, be it musically, cinematographically or even spiritually! Whilst Cape Town is one of the hottest places to shoot on the planet (Blood Diamond, Free Willy, Avengers, Safe House, Doomsday, etc.), Joburg’s creativity in these times of democratic resurgence and world praise for Black empowerment make it a true must-watch. Oh and yeah, Maboneng and Braamfontein's hipness have nothing to envy to Brooklyn and Berlin!
Not only is Trevor Noah's country resourceful in wit and talent, but its constant challenges and crazy paradoxes lead to the most diverse artistic creation. So this month, travel with me to SOUTH AFRICA to explore its ground-breaking contemporary productions as well as its all-times classics!
Inxeba (which means The Wound in Xhosa language (the language spoken in Black Panther which is one out of South Africa’s eleven official languages), is a big scandal here in South Africa: It is said to unravel the secret of the Xhosa adult initiation ceremony (during which Young male adults are taken to the mountains for several weeks and being circumcised); it tackles the tabu issue of homosexuality; and finally its director is white (and hence not Xhosa). So much so that the movie was cancelled in several theaters, went to court for alleged pornographic content (it just won the case) and is widely boycotted locally.
With all that in mind (and being aware that a very large part of the crew was Xhosa, as well as some of the screenwriters), I went to watch the movie. Sneak peek on the current situation…we were THREE in the room.
Far from the provocative critique of Xhosa culture I was expecting, this was a true coming-of-age movie – not very Lady-Bird-like, but nonetheless awesome! It depicts the basics of the initiation rite (but no big secrets that people with Xhosa friends wouldn’t already know), criticizes old-fashioned traditions, yet overall pays respect to the culture as well as to the rite itself. In the director's own words, "in a world that is under-fathered, there is something profound about a ritual that shows a young boy his place in the world of men" and "[non-Xhosa, liberal] preconceptions [on that topic] create jeopardy and crisis for others who have much more to lose". Moreover, this film really isn’t about any specific culture, it’s about human dynamics, pride, love, peer-effect and independence - one of these rare moments that beautifully capture the complexity of life.
Reasons to watch:
- A beautiful coming-of-age movie set in a non-traditional (Hollywood standards) context
- Grand esthetics
- You loved Black Panther? Here’s a fantastic opportunity to learn more about real contemporary Africa (one little tiny bit of it)
Reasons to dread:
- Dread the controversy! Don't watch it if you can't stand gay sex (it's 2018, hey!).
A masterpiece of character development: a thug's struggles and scars, captured from the inside.
This movie manages to be both exciting and fun, as well as absolutely moving and heartbreaking! Tsotsi, a young thug whose sweet babyface absolutely contrasts his harsh, cold-blooded attitude, is the perfect "bad" character to identify with. As time goes by, his story unravels and we feel more and more for him. Yet, somehow, the breathtaking result isn't cheesy at all!
As such, Tsotsi is a true masterpiece and a pioneering movie (yes, that was before we liked our Dark Knight and King Kong evils), and its 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (the first and only Academy Award for Best Picture for South Africa to this day) is very well deserved. In a post-apartheid context it’s also extremely interesting to watch a story that doesn’t talk about the confrontation between white and black people. Yet we feel for the profound unfairness and weirdness of society. MUST-WATCH.
Reasons to watch:
- A character-building masterpiece
- Get a picture of South Africa's post-apartheid bllack communities
- Hold your breath and don’t shy away from unprecedented events
Reasons to dread:
- Make sure not to believe that that's all townships are. However, this film is truly for everyone
The Gods Must be Crazy
The greatest laugh of the country. And what does it mean to be civilized, really?
Time for a little bit of comedy – cruelly lacking from my reviews, I am aware!
Set in 1980 Botswana, a Bushmen (also known as San) tribe gets suddenly linked to the “civilized” world by being sent a Coca-Cola bottle from up in the air. The tribe soon realizes its evil capacities and sends one of its men to get rid of it. Adventures to foresee!
This comedy is damn straight hilarious! From slapstick comedy (oh the scene with the car and the gate!) to more subtle humor, you’re in for a laugh! And not only is it hilarious but it’s also an amazing reflection on the meaning of civilization. In a time where we heavily question the white Western male’s supremacy, it is on point – except that it was done 37 years ago (it’s never too late to learn lessons). Last but not least, my deepest respect to the actor N!xau ǂToma as well as the director who managed to find him and perfectly direct him! To learn more on that topic, watch this interview about the movie-making process. To learn more about the overall context and how tricky directing a movie in the apartheid era was (and how complex racial questions still are), check this link.
Reasons to Watch:
- Laugh HARD
- Question the notion of "civilization"
- Enjoy the incredible acting from a non-actor
Reasons to dread:
It grew old, be aware (still as funny though!)
Have you noticed? I didn't include any Nelson Mandela-related movie, just because...there isn't really any! However, go Watch Clint Eastwood's Invictus or Justin Chadwick's A Long walk to Freedom for a quick summary of his life (or better, read his autobiography).
Another movie I'd love to mention is Steve Jacobs' Disgrace, starring John Malkovitch (if he's in it, you know it's good!) and adapted from Nobel Price Cotzee's Disgrace. A great exploration of the country's post-apartheid nevroses!
For more information about your new passion country, feel free to contact me as I'd talk about it endlessly if I could! Alternatively, have a look at a few articles: Wikipedia has the FULL list of local movies - it doesn't get any better - and this article has a very good selection as well, although it's not an entirely South African selection.
Last but not least...if you loved Black Panther and heard about its awesome dance challenge, well guess what...it's based on a South African song! The genre is called Qhom, and the song is playing everywhere. It's hot, it's viby, it's unbelievably good, there's just no way to listen to it without dancing! Listen to it, spread the word and make it an international hit...or just have fun watching the video below!