published on 15/08/2007 Wooden Camera started as a great screenplay idea: Madiba, a poor kid in a township, finds a video camera on a corpse and hides it in a wooden camera to film his surrounding without being bothered. Gradually discovering all the possibilities of the tool, he develops a new gaze, a cinematic one. His personal relationship to his daily life (family, friends, neighbors, events – a burning house or a party) and with Estelle, a revolted white young woman whom he falls in love with take on an artistic dimension. Some scenes convey a true poetry, especially when perched on a wheelbarrow pushed by a friend, he can give his report images the necessary movement to fit his surrounding’s rhythm, even a simple plastic bag blowing in the wind. The fact that he favors natural elements as much as the substances he finds gives his gaze a beautiful corporality. The video’s grain accentuates the day to day quality, the proximity and familiarity while establishing another discourse, a film in the film, following a well-tried technique.
It is thus that Madiba, whose first name is also Nelson Mandela’s nickname, manages to capture the new South-African reality through art, even if the poetization of the township does not diminish the reality of shantytowns. But is true that a genuine aesthetic, harmony of colors and shapes, are conveyed by the several pan shots and by Madiba’s camera. We recognize the matierist approach of numerous African visual artists who, from the unstructured informal make a meaningful and integrative shape, magnifying their environment that becomes an element of identity. Away from the groups of street children, he shoots with passion, in loneliness, like the director who, at an early age, had a camera and could not stop taking pictures of the township. His friend Sipho (which means « gift » in Zulu) is the opposite of this positive character, he finds a gun on the corpse and will eventually use it. Moving among groups of marginalized and unemployed youths, his role is to represent the violence and suicidal excesses of young unemployed South Africans faced with a consumer society that they cannot integrate but who enjoy a freedom unheard of in the past. His sister Louise’s main role is to begin and close the voice-over story on a « childhood memory » note. As for the music teacher played by Jean-Pierre Cassel, he represents an improbable facilitator and purveyor of images, one foot in the rich white world, the other in the township. When Estelle and Madiba turn on the camera to talk to their parents, it is to announce their leaving: this generation that has not or very little known apartheid refuses to carry their elders’ burdens. The film suggests that not only does it refuse to perpetuate discriminations, but also that it has fundamentally evolved concerning the relationships between Whites and Blacks. Nevertheless, the Estelle-Madiba relationship, which teenagers will no doubt be sensitive to, seems to be an ideal that is still a far cry from South Africa’s ghettos’ weighty realities. To serve the topic in a lively way, efficiency is always sought through a boom-boom camera, a penetrating music, and even aestheticizing slow motions. The choice of English as the spoken language in family setting makes the characters’ social rooting in the township implausible. A strange impression of political correctness thus transpires from this pleasant film as if everything had been constructed around a screenplay idea rather than drawing from a conflicting reality which one could meditate on. The gaze is indeed magnified by the poetic and documentary play of the wooden camera, but the necessity of the film is hard to catch, as it seems so remote from what it represents. Its genesis is more born from a screenplay than from the director’s guts. But it is saved by the fact that the director chose to film this story has, for his part, the necessary personal experience to recreate an image of the township.
Translated by Sutarni Riesenmey///Article N° : 6891