Durban International Film Festival reviews

Teenage rebellion, redemption and cross-country journeys hit the screens

From rural East Germany to the inner city slums of Nairobi, LUMUMBA MTHEMBU reviews some of the best local and international features at one of the top SA film festivals.

Goodbye Berlin

Director of Goodbye Berlin, Fatih Akin, brings to life a movie that follows two teenagers, Maik and Tschick, through former East Germany in a stolen car.

The boys come from divergent backgrounds – Maik is the son of an affluent real estate developer while Tschick is a Russian immigrant orphan – but are united by their status as outcasts in high school. Tschick pays Maik a visit on the first day of the summer vacation in a stolen Lada and the boys set course for Walachia, where Tschick’s grandfather is rumoured to be staying. There is no reason for the trip other than adolescent boredom.

Tschick’s and Maik’s escapade takes them trespassing through farms where they dodge the unwanted attentions of irate tractor drivers, and sleep in the open air under wind turbines. The Lada’s radio chews the only cassette tape on hand, forcing the boys to talk about everything from school to sexuality. Tschick opens up to Maik about his queerness after they pick up a stray girl who takes up with Maik. Maik is too shy to consummate the attraction, which is when Tschick questions his sexuality before divulging his own.

Goodbye Berlin is a feel-good coming-of-age film and goes a long way toward challenging stereotypes regarding the seriousness of German film. It is light-hearted, irreverent, colourful and musical, much like the teenage duo cast in the lead roles. Goodbye Berlin gets five stars.

Soul Boy

Soul Boy is an endearing film. The story takes place in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi.

Abila wakes up having had a disconcerting dream in which he lies on the railway track, to find that his father has lost his mind. After some pressing inquiries as to the genesis of the problem, the young boy discovers that the prognosis is worse than feared: his father has lost his soul.

Abila embarks on a quest to discover how the situation can be rectified, which takes him to the door of a sangoma who outlines seven tasks, which the child must complete in order to restore his father’s soul. His to-do list is reminiscent of the labours of Hercules and includes tasks such as: slaying the snake he fears most, challenging a new world, inhabiting another’s skin, paying another’s debt without stealing, lending a hand without question, and helping a sinner without judgment.

The film is a result of a collaborative effort between young film enthusiasts in Nairobi, and German director Tom Tykwer. It is a shining example of the beauty that can be created on a micro-budget by a tightly knit production crew and gets four stars.

Symphony for Ana

Symphony for Ana is an Argentinian film about the friendship of two girls who become embroiled in the dark world of politics. Ana and Isa are two fourteen-year-olds who attend the National High School of Buenos Aires in the years leading up to the coup of 1976. Their concerns are those of adolescents before their political activity begins: they obsess over boys, smoke cigarettes in secret and spend vacations together. It is only when they are sucked into the leftist student movement that takes over their school that their personal lives conflate with the political.

Symphony for Ana lays out the sacrifices that young people must make when adults are complacent. As Ana tells her mother at one stage, it is not right to want a better life for one’s children, but then leave it to other people’s children to die. The events depicted in the film are contemporaneous with our own youth-led struggle of 1976, which makes the film’s message resonate with South Africans, especially since it seems as though the youth must, once again, pick up the cudgels and fight for free education in the face of apathetic adults. This Argentinian film gets 3 stars.

End of the Season

End of the Season is a German film about redemption. Becker, an ex-member of a biker gang, works as a security guard in a warehouse after he is released from prison. He prays everyday before work and takes excellent care of the Rottweiler under his command. He blinks the boss’s eccentricities, which include taking advantage of his female workers, and does not talk back because work is hard to find for a parolee. Companions are also few and far between, which is why Becker abducts Lemmy, the warehouse Rottweiler, and installs him as his flat mate. It is not long before Becker wins female companionship in the form of Rita, the warehouse cleaning lady, who does not mind his unsavoury past. In return, Becker tolerates her young child Timo, before we discover that he has an estranged daughter of his own.

The pace of End of the Season is appropriately slow, filling the two-hour running time with Becker’s mundane attempts to make up for past wrongs; his daily routine so quotidian it could never make up for an act as drastic as murder. The score is minimal and the colour palette flat, in order to accentuate the drab German winter. The season itself is symbolic of death, which stalks Becker throughout the film. End of the Season is about penance and the inescapable nature of the past and gets five stars.

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