Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Oppression across ?continents

MOVIES OF THE WEEK
Shaun de Waal

Two with South African connections and dated 2013 are Sara Blecher's Two Men and a Wedding and Heidi Grunebaum and Mark J Kaplan's The Village under the Forest–the directors are, at least, of South African origin.

Two Men and a Wedding is slightly mistitled; it should perhaps be Two Men and an Engagement, because the wedding never happens, but I suppose that's not quite as catchy. It's the story of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steve Monjeza, Malawian men who made headlines in 2009 when they threw an engagement party for themselves, got arrested by the police, were put on trial under venerable colonial sodomy laws, were sentenced (in 2010) to 14 years' hard labour, and finally pardoned by Malawi's then-president, Bingu wa Mutharika, after an appeal by the United Nations's Ban Ki-moon and threats of the withdrawal of donor funds to Malawi, 40% of whose gross domestic product is donated.

This is a fascinating tale, especially for the way it uncovers the attitudes of family members and other ordinary Malawians and sets them beside the views of human-rights campaigners and lawyers. The footage of Chimbalanga herself ("I consider myself a woman") is quite special; the rest, combined of talking heads and news footage, is compellingly put together to take the viewer all the way to the story's ambivalent conclusion.

The personal histories of these two troublesome people are touching; weirdly, they both lost their mothers at an early age, and were "troubled" before they were troublesome. One at least went through the bewitchment stage of a traditional African society dealing with homosexuality, and the line taken by local Christian groups is shown in all its odd ambiguity (Chimbalanga was a prominent member of a women's church group for some time).

The way Mutharika himself played with the gay thing as a political counter is very interesting. In the film, he proudly says he's outwitted the Western donors (by pardoning the gay pair) and then parodies Chimbalanga's flouncy behaviour, in riotously homophobic style. On another occasion, he speaks of same-sex sexual practices as "foreign things", and this at a Christian ceremony, nogal–the ordination of a bishop. 

Talking about foreign things, when are African leaders going to start calling for Christianity to be criminalised in Africa? It really is time that this pernicious Western indoctrination ended.

Indoctrination is the issue in The Village under the Forest, which is written and narrated by Grunebaum, making it a personalised kind of political-historical documentary. She's a South African Jew who, in the film, visits a forest area in Israel, one for the planting of which she raised money as a child in South Africa. But what she is there to discover is the Palestinian village–Lubya or Lubiya–that was erased in 1948 during Israel's foundational war. 

The documentary has testimony from a man who was an Israeli soldier at the time, telling how he and others systematically destroyed the village, from which the Israeli army had finally driven its Palestinian inhabitants. It has a staunch old South African woman who raised funds here for Israel even in 1947, and it also has the commentary of important historians Ilan Pappe and Avi Shlaim, who explain the context of the war and the situation in which the expulsions of Palestinians from the Galilee happened.

For Grunebaum, the story of how she discovered what was really going on in the apartheid South Africa in which she grew up, and the truth behind the Zionist line she had been fed as a child, are intertwined. "I found myself questioning both," she says, followed by a portentous piano chord. 

For me, the film is rather over-narrated, as well as over-musicked–do we really need poignant flute or piano every time we are told about a dispossession, say? Truly moving material, such as that of the old Palestinian man who goes by tractor to pray each day at Lubya, has no need of sentimental augmentation–and that is where the film's heart really is.

 


The TriContinental Human Rights Film festival is on at Cinema Nouveau theatres in Rosebank, and The Bioscope at Arts on Main, Johannesburg (September 13 to 22), and Brooklyn Nouveau, in Pretoria (September 20 to 29), and the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town (September 20 to 29). For more information, go to tcff.org.za

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Life Esidimeni inquest postponed until August 30

The lawyer for the bereaved families argued that Dr Makgabo Manamela’s requests for postponements have a negative impact on the families of the deceased who seek closure

RECAP: Mbeki tells ANC that land without compensation goes against...

‘This would be a very serious disincentive to investment,’ says Thabo Mbeki in a document arguing that the ANC should not proceed with the Constitutional amendment of section 25

More top stories

Government proclaims 27 October for local elections, but supports...

The IEC has accepted former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke’s recommendation to postpone the vote to February, but still needs Constitutional Court approval to do so

ANC Free State endorses three names for Mangaung mayor

The three candidates the province has put forward are said to be Ramaphosa supporters, who will further alienate Magashule from his power base

ANC’s provincial executive committee endorses three candidates for Joburg mayor...

Sources say that the PEC gave the nod to the three names put forward by the Johannesburg regional executive committee

Covid-19 draws the bulk of health sector’s focus, at the...

Children have accounted for a relatively low number of coronavirus cases, but other facets of their healthcare and wellbeing have suffered
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×