Students’ choice: 5 top African films at DIFF

2014-07-23 15:23

Various programmes at the Durban International Film Festival are training students to become film critics. Here are some of their reviews of the impressive selection of African films on offer this year

» B for Boy (Nigeria)

The film rises above traditional Nollywood fare for its intimate exploration of the conflict between modern and traditional values in Nigeria. Amaka Okoli lives a financially stable, middle-class life as a wife, mother and career woman. She is left infertile after a miscarriage.

Despite her personal success and wealth, Amaka is constrained by Igbo culture – which places a strong emphasis on women bearing male children to carry the family name. Amaka finds herself in a desperate situation and the film shows the lengths to which she will go to get the required son. Her suffering is exacerbated by her in-laws.

Her mother-in-law brands her “evil” and a “man” for failing to bear a son, and she has to deal with the looming threat of her husband, Nonso, marrying a second wife. Nonso refuses to accept the possibility that they will not have a son. The fake pregnancy belly Amaka dons to conceal her secret serves as a metaphor for the terrible burden she carries throughout the film.

What is refreshing about B for Boy is the analysis of the inner workings of patriarchy. Not only the women suffer under the system but men, too.

Intelligent, touching and sometimes uncomfortable to watch, Chika Anadu’s debut feature film is a must-see.

– Rasvanth Chunylall

» Beti and Amare (Ethiopia)

Beti is a young woman living a simple life with her grandfather in this genre-bending feature. Their shack is the only sign of life on the vast, desolate plain. Every day she walks to the nearest oasis to fetch water, her single, most important task. One day soldiers come and a knife becomes her constant companion.

At first glance, this low-budget, vampire romance set in 1930s Ethiopia seems contemplative, but when the end credits roll, there is creature feature, war film and character study embedded in its framework.

The film is minimalist and visually striking. The score is sparse, effective and most importantly Ethiopian. Beti’s emotions are tracked through the inclusion and exclusion of colour.

During a high-stakes moment in the film, the red flower in her hair loses its colour and falls to the ground, blending into the now completely black nd white scene.

Beti’s dialogue is poetic and Hiwot Asres’ performance comes alive with conflict.

Her companion, who she named Amare (meaning “handsome” in Amharic), is a humanoid monster, easily identified as a vampire. Pascale Dawson’s performance is adorable and hilarious, with an underlying danger and unpredictability.

There is humour in Beti and Amare’s relationship resonant of the way Africans laugh through their troubles.

As a thematic piece on women during wartime, however, it is disappointingly patronising. Beti’s beauty and wisdom is juxtaposed against caricatured monstrous men.

– Monica Obaga

» Hear Me Move (South Africa)

Muzi is a teen battling with his inner self about his passion for dancing and the need to make his widowed mother proud. Unlike any fictional dance movie before it, this one explores a type of dance closer to our hearts: pantsula. And the dialogue is mostly in isiZulu.

Hear Me Move is set in the heart of Joburg where Muzi’s dance team, the S’bujawa Nations, compete against rivals Ambashin for the right to showcase pantsula in America. Like the Step Up films, this too is a family film. It traces the relationship between Muzi and his mother, as well as the teenage romance between him and a team mate.

This film is brilliantly written and directed. I rate it highly and recommend it to all South Africans; it is an emotional story of self-discovery and the true meaning of what it is to be a family.

– Chibwe Akombelwa

» Timbuktu (Mali)

There is a beautifully shot scene in Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu. A man has just shot another on the shores of a shallow river. As he walks across the river, shuffling and dazed, his victim, trying to stand, stumbles and breathes his last. At the end of the scene, two figures – one standing, the other immobile in the water – are silhouetted against the impending dusk on opposite sides of a river.

Both killer – a cattle herder – and victim – a fisherman – are people living under an oppressive Islamist regime. The leaders make whimsical pronouncements: no music, no smoking, no football. The latter presents an opportunity for the filmmaker to show a remarkably imaginative scene of young men playing football without a ball. To escape the absurdity of the regime’s decrees, the people turn to the absurd.

Some, like the herder, humiliated but reluctant to flee his homeland with his family, takes out the claustrophobic frustration on a neighbour.

The oppressed attack the oppressed. Blood must out. Violence begets violence: fisherman kills cow, owner of cow kills fisherman. Then the oppressor, the remote cause of the violence, accords judgment.

The cascade of events is unjust. And Sissako, purveyor of brutal reality, refuses to judge. As the film slowly unravels towards a tragic ending, the director could be accused of cynicism.

Sometimes, however, cynicism is just another word for reality.

– Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

» A Snake Gives Birth to a Snake (South Africa)

Here’s a documentary that highlights the many changes South Africa has gone through, politically and socially, in the past 20 years. It is a journey with a group of actors and actresses who travel to different parts of the world that have been through the same experiences as South Africa.

It is a refreshing take on the topic of freedom and democracy because it shows that other countries have the same experience of war and bloodshed.

The cast, confronted by our violent past, begin questioning how much healing they still have to undergo themselves. One of the themes explored is “the truth in translation” which is an eye-opener to those who do not know the full story of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

– Phethi Mchunu

» These are edited versions of reviews that emanated from the Centre for Communication, Media and Society lab for UKZN students

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