Movie review – Nothing for Mahala: Clever blacks and grumpy old men

2013-10-06 14:00

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This is the best mainstream local film of the year, but will audiences reward the makers by putting their bums on seats? Gayle Edmunds hopes so

I laughed out loud – a lot – during this film and shed a tear at the end, and even though I haven’t yet seen Of Good Report, I am pretty sure Nothing for Mahalais going to be my favourite local film of the year.

Let’s get real about what that means, though. It’s been a tough year for the critics as far as home-grown film is concerned and ticket sales have slumped drastically.

Blitz Patrollie was talked up, but it slid down the box office faster than a fireman on a greasy pole once word of mouth got hold of it.

Spud?2, a film hoping to replicate the pulling power of its predecessor, couldn’t copy its wide-eyed wonder. The Swiss cheese plotted Vehicle 19 defies description.

In fact, the last time I loved a local film this much was Material – little surprise, as some of the same people are behind both films.

The problem with South African films that do not deliver the goods is that they tar the few that do with the same brush. Not enough South Africans saw Paradise Stop, or Material for that matter, but for reasons that will always elude me, South Africans will always go and see a new Leon Schuster film.


I guess at least with Schuster you know what you’re getting – fart jokes and a gag-making serving of South African stereotypes.

Perhaps the fact that South Africans like Schuster’s versions of themselves isn’t an indictment on the film maker but on the audience.

If you’d like to see South Africans you can actually relate to, then give Nothing for Mahala a try. It has the full bouquet: expertly written, expertly directed and acted, with top-notch production values.

Thapelo Mokoena (a familiarly handsome face from TV) is Axe, a young man who is always hustling, even while explaining to a judge why he should be let off for drink-driving.

It’s a suggestion that earns him 200 hours of community service. With his morally corrupt boss (Jamie Bartlett) dangling the carrot of partnership, Axe must keep the loan sharks he owes the clothes on his back to away long enough to cash in while also getting in his 200 hours at an old age home.

It is in this state of panic, which does nothing to temper his cockiness, that he has an altercation with a grumpy old man, Hendrik (Marius Weyers).

It turns out to be the beginning of a mutually beneficial rivalry. It’s also a buddy pairing made in film paradise – the two do yin and yang in perfect and hilarious harmony.

The script is written by Darrel Bristow-Bovey and he achieves what legions of South African scriptwriters before him haven’t. There are no gaping holes or fantastical leaps, and there’s a cast of characters who defy stereotype.

This film manages effortlessly to present a picture of our society that is both believable and aspirational. It also masters the bit part in

the tradition of films such as Notting Hill and Death at a Funeral.

Annabel Linder, Dorothy Masuka, Lionel Newton and Casper de Vries all get their laughs thanks to good writing and excellent timing.

Director Rolie Nikiwe has cracked it with Nothing for Mahala. I will be holding thumbs that South African audiences reward him for it at the box office.


Director: Rolie Nikiwe

Featuring: Thapelo Mokoena, Mmabatho Montsho, Marius Weyers, Jamie Bartlett, Kenneth Nkosi and Dorothy Masuka

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