Dir. Darrell James Roodt.S Africa. 2004. 91mins.
Yesterday, DarrellJames Roodt's touching and only too familiar African tragedy, which claims tobe the first Zulu-language feature, has more to offer than unfamiliar language,spectacular landscapes and a touch of exoticism.
Without entering any of thepolitical minefields that many films about South Africa (Forgiveness, CountryOf My Skull) have stumbled on recently, Roodt presents moving testimonyabout the state of a world whose existence most of the West seems to willinglyignore.
Acted at times withunintentional gaucherie which lends it even more authenticity, this HBOproduction is likely to find its main market on ancillary. But it could easilyfit into festival programmes - it played Toronto after screening in theOrizzonti sidebar at Venice - as well as find favour with audiences looking toexpand their horizons. It is also South Africa's entry for Best Foreignlanguage Oscar.
The story is plain, simpleand unadorned. Yesterday (Leleti Khumalo), a young woman who lives in a remoteZululand village, is told that she has contracted the HIV virus. Her husband,who works in a mine near Johanesburg and rarely returns home for brief visits,doesn't want to hear about it, venting his anger on her instead.
She also has to care fortheir little daughter, Beauty, to whom she is devoted, and hide the news fromthe rest of the village, for whom AIDS is not much different from the bubonicplague. But the secret is bound come out, and does once her husband comes homebearing all the signs of the condition.
It is here that
Roodt takes a slow,unhurried pace and tells his story in a plain, straightforward fashion, keepingwith Yesterday every step of the way, as her perception of the world changesfrom the moment she is told of her condition.
The characters around her areno more then incidental sketches. Instead it is her unflagging devotion to herdaughter and husband and incapacity to find in herself the rage which thevillage witch doctor claims is the source of all evil, that make her such anexceptional woman.
Leleti Khumalo, who starredin Roodt's adaptation of the African hit musical Serafina, may not beparticularly versatile, but she possesses the kind of luminously sincere faceand unperturbed natural conduct, that it is difficult not to trust ineverything she does.
Framed by lavishlyphotographed, majestic landscapes of the African countryside, placed in asociety whose natural kindness easily gives way to suspicion and fear,Yesterday is like a force of nature, determined not to let herself bevanquished either by her destiny or by the terror it strikes in others.
At times it is tempting todraw comparisons with other arthouse favourites like Samira Makhmalbaf's Blackboards(which, like Yesterday, features teachers roaming the countrysidelooking for schools to teach in) or the philosophical allusions seen in KimKi-duk's Spring,Summer, Autumn, Winter...And Spring.But Roodt is pretty much his own man, speaking for a territory that has beenbarely explored before.
Prod cos: Videovision Entertainment, HBO Films
Int'l sales: HBO Films (London)
Prod: Anant Singh
Scr: Darrell James Roodt
Cine: Michael Brierley
Ed: Avbril Beukes
Prod des: Tiaan van Tonder
Music: Madala Kunene
Main cast: Leleti Khumalo, Lihle Mvelasi, Kenneth Kambule,Harriet Lehabe, Camilla Walker