2006-11-03 09:33

Road movie meets action meets bildungsroman meets Annie in Africa, Malunde is set in '94, just after South Africa's first democratic elections. It's the story of how bos ex SA Army soldier Kobus (Ian Roberts) finds direction and meaning in his life after street kid Wonderboy (Kagiso Mtetwa) gently hijacks his disillusioned life, and makes a success of him.

Foreigners love this movie. Glowing reviews abound. People speak of how natural the dialogue was - I found it stiff and embarrassing in places, and the delivery a bit staid. They rave about the cinematography - which is decidedly corny at times, though admittedly very slick. And the imagery of birds flying... what is it with South African films, and shots of birds flying? I think I can guess the symbolism, but I'm not sure I need to be beaten about the head by it quite so often.

While foreign reviewers call it touching, I found it a slightly soppy and cliched take on a classic story. Perhaps this is how Australians feel about movies like The Castle or Muriel's Wedding, which we think are so charming and true to life.

There are many great things about Malunde. The soundtrack is superb. The film is very funny in places. And it's a patriotic rainbow nation story too. It acknowledges that Kobus - with his bewildered anger over the past and his betrayal by his own side in the war, and Kagiso - who lost his mother to the struggle and his childhood to the street, are equally South African, and not as separate as Apartheid tried to make them. People don't really want racism - they merely can't escape it easily.

This is a beautiful and hopeful message, and the film is about this kind of reconciliation. Of course, it's an idealisation of it, which matches the message we've been trying to send the world since '94. The real new South Africa is a lot more complicated, and the endings less happy.

Still, as they say, it's only a movie.

At face value Malunde is a beautiful and hopeful message about the 'new' South Africa. Unfortunately it also plays to foreign audiences by simplifying issues and wallowing in soppy cliches.

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