2018-10-12 07:25
A scene in the movie Aya.


In a mere 60 minutes, a women’s experience at the hands of a human trafficker (Richard Gau) lays bare the brutality that nearly a million people are subjected to every year. Khalid El-Jelailati’s story brings to the screen the smothering horror that befalls a South African woman named Aya. Vividly portrayed by Danica Del Ray, Aya’s nightmare begins when she agrees to go on a date with a man she met online. What follows is a terrifying journey as Aya suffers devastating atrocities.


The film’s significance is evident enough as the trafficking of women and children has become the world’s fastest growing crime. Victims are dragged over international borders, most often sexually exploited and sold into slavery. 

An estimate of the total number of trapped men, women and children rose to an appalling 24.9 million in 2017. Aya reminds us that South Africa is not immune to this scourge, and can in part be seen as a call to action – or, at the very least, a call to start paying attention. 

Del Ray portrays Aya’s hell with a guttural intensity as she clings to the last threads of her strength after being drugged, kidnapped and tortured. Much is demanded of Del Ray in this role. Not only is she in nearly every scene, but the script’s sparse dialogue necessitates an animal-like reaction to what befalls her character. She tells her story with primal noises and broken screams, jerking limbs and shaking hands, trembling lips, and facial expressions that communicate her overwhelming fear. As in Mbongeni Ngema’s Asinamali! Del Ray truly inhabits her character, essentially becoming Aya for 60 minutes of anguish. 

Together with the mise-en-scène of the film – especially how the scenes are framed in mostly wide and medium shots, and the placing of the actors within those frames – Del Ray’s authenticity bleeds into the film as a whole. It’s a rough ride at times, often difficult to watch, sometimes even harder to hear as Aya begs for freedom and weeps in terror. 

A significant note about the film’s production is that it was written in two days and filmed in three, with only five days of prepping in between. During a post-screening Q&A session at the Cape Town International Film Market and Festival, director, screenwriter and producer El-Jelailati says they were motivated to show that it is possible to make a film in such a short amount of time if you are truly committed to the project. Surprisingly the film does not suffer for it. Instead, it seems to have benefited from the rush – almost as if fueled by that same apprehension and anxiety that propels the story forward at a wild pace with extreme emotional impact. The result is a dark thriller that instills such dread as to feel scared of your own shadow in an underground parking lot. 


Tickets for the film’s screening at 14:30 on Friday, 12 October at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town can be bought here.

Read more on:    ctifmf 2018  |  movie review  |  movies  |  local films

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