Movie review – Forgotten Kingdom: The hills are alive with the sound of cliches

2014-04-18 14:00

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Film: The Forgotten Kingdom

Director: Andrew Mudge

Featuring: Lillian Dube, Moshoeshoe Chabeli, Jerry Mofokeng and Zenzo Ngqobe

Ten minutes into The Forgotten Kingdom, a new film by American director ­Andrew Mudge, I feared I was in for yet another story about helpless ­Africans eking out a grim ­existence against gorgeous backdrops.

It opens with wide shots panning the ­panoramic majesty of Lesotho’s mountains, cutting to the helter-skelter of the sprawling ­concrete jungle of Joburg.

We are rapidly introduced to the players and their grungy world of noise, quick bucks and brutal losses.

The film tells the story of Atang Mokoenya, otherwise known to his urban kinfolk as Joseph. The character is played by Zenzo Ngqobe, who played a similar thuggish role in Tsotsi a decade ago. Here the angry and estranged young man is forced to travel back home to rural Lesotho with the remains of his father.

The two had moved to Joburg after his mother’s death. His father worked in the mines before trying other ways of earning a living in the city. He ends up alone and sick with Aids in a shantytown on the outskirts of Joburg. His death and Atang’s burdened journey precipitate the film’s many subnarrative themes.

Mudge tells the story with a layered, easy-going flow. As he meanders through his simple plot, he stops to consider Africa’s fascination with religion and myths of tokoloshes.

He develops a strange fixation with notions of a beautiful burial and the insistence on declaring everyone good once they die. This redemption through death annoys Atang. He remembers his father as a negligent parent who took him to a strange city and abandoned him for years on end.

Much of the character is drawn from this anger and internal struggle, and it is in the middle of this vortex of resentment that he meets his childhood friend Dineo (Nozipho Nkelemba).

She returned home years earlier – on a break from university – to discover that her sister was dying from an Aids-related sickness. Dineo stayed and now teaches in their village school.

It’s at this point in the story that one pitiful fact becomes apparent. Mudge hasn’t laboured to offer us a single whole person. All his characters are broken people. Even Dineo, who takes on a father intent on marrying her off, is ­portrayed as little more than a victim.

The characters who do have some kind of agency don’t seem settled in their liberation.

This is a world of wounded women and men struggling with disease, poverty and superstition. This cocktail of clichéd spectres of Africa’s natural beauty and its pitiful people sums up a time-tested formula when it comes to representing this continent.

Of course it’s important to keep talking about dispossession and the scourge of HIV/Aids. But there has to be a more ­historically sensitive way to handle the subject to avoid ­slipping into image-making that leans towards poverty ­pornography.

The Forgotten Kingdom was shot in Lesotho with a South African cast. This is commendable in an industry that believes in using American or British actors to lend respectability to African productions.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Qa71pVKSUA

. Mabandu watched an online screener, not a cinema screening, to review The Forgotten Kingdom

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