Zulu Secretsby Nathan Zeno / 20.08.2009
uZulu Lami is an innocent film as well as a film about innocence. The story of two young rural Zulu children who after their mother dies and are left in the care of a selfish aunt run off to the big city to sell their mothers grass mat. They discover that life in the big city is cruel, they nearly become glue sniffing street kids, are nearly spilt up, nearly sold into slavery and then sell some curios and go home. The plot is painfully simplistic, almost as if it had been made specifically for children.
Much has been made of the exceptional performances of the children, and as children on screen go the characters of Tembi & Kwezi are engaging enough, but Chilli Boy is by far the only performance that carries any emotional depth. The performances of two of the adults Michael Gritten and Peter Gardiner must be singled out as being overly large. Director Madoda Ncayiyana made an incredibly poetic short film The Sky In Her Eyes on which uZulu Lami is based, it seems a great pity that he has not managed to translate this poetry to a full length film. One also has to question how realistic a film concerning the lives of street children in the inner city can be when it has the city as one of its credited supporters.
But many of the things that I at first found to be weaknesses are, upon reflection, actually strengths. By not getting into the end point of many of these adventure uZulu Lami functions more as fairy tale than realism and this makes it more accessible as a film. In fact I would have to question any value in going further into detail than it does. If the film was too realistic it might lose it’s audience. In this regard it seems Ncayiyana has translated his earlier poetry. He uses a world of whimsy to hint at darker truths without losing a dual message of hope and tragic inevitability. Even if it is not the most complex film uZulu Lami is a far more complex piece of filmmaking than it seems at first. It is such a great pity then that some of the performances hold it back from being a total success.