A crafty romcom

2015-07-17 14:43

Diff review: Ayanda 
Directed by Sara Blecher 
Starring Fulu Mugovhani, OC Ukeje, Kenneth Nkosi, Nthati Moshesh  

“This is where talent encounters audiences,” said the new director of the Durban International Film Festival, Pedro Pimenta, ahead of the opening screening at the country’s largest film event last night. 

With a pointed selection, the Mozambican aims to make Diff the gem in the crown of African cinema, veering even further away from dominant Western cinematic influences. Of 22 documentaries and fiction features in competition this year, only five are not produced or co-produced by Africans. 

The opening film, Sara Blecher’s Ayanda, certainly has an African agenda and lashings of talent, but unfortunately a few too many lashings. 

A comedic family love drama with sartorial street styling, quirky animated elements, an endearing cast and a rough and ready Yeoville setting, Ayanda is a fresh new voice that will most likely go down a treat with its woefully under-represented target audience – young African women. But it also comes off as a bit of a craft fair. 

Ayanda (Fulu Mugovhani), the 21-year-old child of a Nigerian father and a South African mother (Nthati Moshesh) alongside mechanic David (OC Ukeje) must fight to save her father’s garage in Yeoville, while coming to terms with his death and keeping the hope of a new generation alive. 

Newcomer Mugovhani shines in the title role opposite the deliciously understated Nigerian star Ukeje. Moshesh shows why she is a national treasure, playing out a genuinely poignant mother-daughter drama that speaks to an intergenerational clash; hope taking on defeat with a dark secret at its centre. And, among the odd bellyflops, there are several standout cameos and supports (Menzi Ngubane and Sihle Xaba take a bow). 

But about two-thirds of the way through, Ayanda starts to drag before regaining traction and hurtling towards an ending. 

The problem is that it tries to be too many films in one. It adopts too many storylines and narrative techniques. It’s a similar problem that I had with Blecher’s otherwise good black surfer film Otelo Burning, which opened Diff a few years ago. 

There is a pure story at the heart of Ayanda, but the film is unfortunately framed as a kind of documentary with a poorly acted photographer (star blogger Anthony Bila) documenting “a continent reinventing itself” by zooming in on the Pan-African community in Yeoville. The narrative device is not consistent and clashes with the animated elements, forcing back stories and blunting its political message. 

The family drama and love story are powerful, but at times are put at risk by too many subplots. 

Several times I found myself thinking that some of the characters and performances felt too staged. And Sesotho speakers complained about the unidiomatic translations and inauthentic delivery. For this, one blames the director. 

But Ayanda’s main fault lies in the script. It’s just too ambitious, trying too hard to be the grand African romcom instead of a small story that resonates big with audiences. 

Its political messaging – that African unity exists in South Africa – is much-needed, but again torpedoed by the documentary framing, reducing the minor African characters to clichés. But Ayanda’s ambition is also a plus. 

Compared to last year’s opening film, the crime thriller Hard To Get, last night’s opening film was a big move in the right direction. Here’s a real woman in charge of her destiny instead of a heroine that is the product of men’s objectification. Here are heroes with pimples, sex without wigs, love in a time of xenophobia. Here’s a film that shows the stories from Africa the world doesn’t see. 

Made for women by women about women, it’s a missing piece of the new South African film puzzle and it will hopefully develop a cult following when it hits the mainstream circuit in October this year. But it tries too hard.

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