The film opens with a magnificent panoramic shot of the Charterston roof-tops (the black ghetto of Nigel), drenched in the early morning light, their chimney smoke wafting in the same oblique line. The impression stays with us, the film being anything but straight, cold, objective. It is not the documentary on apartheid Western spectators may expect, and it is certainly not about the eternal conflict between the devilish White and the magnificent Black that Hollywood regularly dishes up for a world anxious to expurgate its guilt over its primarily economic complicity with an extreme regime. Ramadan Suleman has chosen a shortly story by Njabulo Ndebele for the first feature film freely directed by a Black South African. It is not an innocent choice, Ndebele being the theoretician of the « rediscovery of the ordinary » (the title of one of his famous articles published in 1986), convinced that « only an art of quality can efficiently contribute to awakening the censured conscience of the oppressed, and thus free their humanity by instilling in them the desire to fight in order to achieve a creative life ». This represents the aesthetic and political choice of starting with the self, of accepting the necessary introspection in order to reach the state of acceptation that is so hard for oppressed peoples, inclined by History to see themselves more as victims than as bearing any responsibility. This requires a transparency which deals with the Black integration of the violence of an apartheid-ridden society, rather than revelling in the spectacle of oppression. It is the choice of the future: the legacy of apartheid is deeply entrenched, and this violence is omnipresent. Imbazo, the Axe (1993), the short film by Mickey Madoba Dube shown at the Fespaco in 1995, already dealt with the relation between a son and his father, who is a member of the murderous commandos paid by the regime to terrorize the ghettos. Fools also depicts the relation between a teacher and a youth who could be his son, but who, in fact, is the brother of the pupil he raped, when he lost his self-control one day, a long time ago. And who, like Ndebele himself in the past, comes back from Swaziland, where the Black elite used to send its children to escape the sub-standard schooling imposed on the Black South Africans, educated and ready for action. It is the difficult meeting between this 55-year-old, former anti-apartheid militant, worn down by the vacuousness of his life, and an militant student, exasperated by those who do not share his sense of urgency. In the mirror-divide they hold up to each other, they learn to see themselves. Suleman excels in his use of settings – both the verticals in the interiors, and the perspectives of the streets of the ghetto – to explore the tension that inhabits the two men, and the vision the women have of them. An intense emotion wells up out of these ordinary people’s interiority. Furthermore, the final scene in which the teacher Zamani lets himself be whipped by the angry Boer, is reminiscent of the extraordinary final expiation in Ousmane Sembène’s Xala, in which El Hadji regains his potency and his dignity by accepting to be spat at. The grieving process is not without new pain and takes courage, as the graffiti on the station wall predicts: « the only death to fear is fear itself ». This film says it in complete simplicity, without pathos, in the image of the madman Suleman has added to the narrative, punctuating this magnificent introspection with his dancing and laughter.
///Article N° : 5278