Letting Go

By Bernard Joffa(South Africa)

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When she returns to South Africa after having lived in exile in the States, Nolutando, who has qualified as a doctor, wants to offer her father, whom she thinks has died in the civil rights struggle in Zwaziland, a fitting grave. In order to do so, she has to flee from Zoulou, to whom she is betrothed. Her flight deeper and deeper into an exotic Africa takes on the allure of a road-movie. The meeting with a white expatriate and his daughter provokes a confrontation with the « real » South Africa: Frankie is a musicologist, plays the mbira wonderfully, and exclaims when he hears traditional songs, « This is the South Africa I love! ». It is Frankie who tells her the meaning of her own name (« loved by all »), and Nolutando thus rediscovers her African roots… and eventually her father.
Quite up-beat and technically correct, the film initially seems rather pleasant and innocent. Very rapidly, however, the doubts set in, as you are left desperately seeking the people in this decorative Africa, the film rapidly turning into a series of picture postcards of the different South African tourist spots. The extras do nothing but dance in traditional costume. Folklore and tribalization were the mainstays of apartheid cinema… even if, thanks to the Nolutando character, the film is a far cry from the works produced by Bayeta and Igoli that perpetrated the image of the uncouth and backward rural Black fit for little more than being packed off to the homelands. But it is nonetheless disturbing to discover in her the kind of exception that confirms the rule of the « structured integration » films, to coin Keyan Tomaselli’s term, which limited the changes to one class. Nolutando is a doctor, even though South Africa totally neglected to educate its black population. One may wonder what she represents, then, if not the exception that needs to be helped to emerge? Frankie is there for that very reason. He is not interested in people, but in their music. This is the Andrew Steyn character from James Uys’s The Gods Must Be Crazy again: the peaceful scientist cut off from the world who personifies a technologically advanced, but non-aggressive South Africa. These two characters who come from elsewhere cross the rainbow nation like a pair of zombies who are only revived by nature. Their difference in skin colour is never mentioned, but perfectly determines their roles nonetheless: it is Frankie who helps Nolutando rediscover her roots. South African films have every right to be superficial, and do not necessarily have to bear a message, but these caricatures are a long way from exploring what the South African populations experience today: they behave as if the problems did not exist. Am I being paranoid for being amazed that the Fespaco included a film so directly derived from an ideology that dehumanizes Blacks in their competition?

///Article N° : 5386


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