[Movie Review]: Between Friends
Anytime I hear that a 100% locally-produced movie is going onto the cinema circuit, I get excited. I want to see South African movies getting as much love at the box office as American and European ones: we have just as much talent, and our stories deserve to be told on the big screen.
This August saw the local release of Zuko Nodada’s Between Friends, which had shown at the Pan African Film Festival in the USA as well as our own Durban International Film Festival earlier this year.
An ensemble cast tells a story about regrets, grudges, troubled romances and the bonds of friendship. The plot plays out at a secluded lodge in Kwa-Zulu Natal, where 6 friends come together for a university reunion weekend. A lot has happened since they last got together, and as secrets from the past are revealed and latent resentments are brought up again, the reunion begins to unravel.
Linda (Lihle Dhlomo) and her Canadian boyfriend Justin (played by Morne du Toit) are haunted by her past with Nkanyiso (Thapelo Mokoena), who is now with Nisha (Amanda du Pont). Nisha is the newcomer to the group, and she has her own scandals that she tries desperately to hide from Nkanyiso. Njabulo (Siyabonga Radebe) is under pressure, as he struggles to show his father (Siyabonga Thwala) that he is responsible enough to run the lodge, while his brother Nkanyiso stands by, expecting him to fail. Untold truths from the past are brought to light to reveal why Portia (Mandisa Nduna, from Season 2 of Class Act) shunts her husband Winston (Dumisani Mbembe) around as if being married to him is a burden to her.
The plot takes a turn when Njabulo says too much about the past at the dinner table one night. What he tells the group leads each of the friends to seek resolutions to all the unfinished conversations from when they were last together, and by the end of the movie a lot of the loose threads have been picked out and the future looks good for most of the characters.
The idea behind the movie is not new, as there are a number of reunion movies (all of which seem to star Taye Diggs or Nia Long) which have been popular in the past. Khobi Ledwaba tried to write a South African spin into this movie formula, and for the most part it works really well. The downfalls are the sketchy “Canadian” whose accent kept breaking, making the character unbelievable, and the hole in Nisha’s story which viewers are dropped into towards the end of the movie. These elements could have been executed a lot better.
Mandisa Nduna and Siyabonga Radebe gave great performances, and I hope to see them in more productions in the future. Though Amanda du Pont’s character was dull in the end, there was one brilliant moment where she showed that she can produce a performance that has more depth than the “charming Swati princess” persona that the media is always showing us.
The movie was worth seeing, because of my aforementioned devotion to South African cinema. However, I would have liked to see better character development and some different casting choices.
I will probably go and rent it once it’s out on DVD, just so I can make all my friends and family watch it, and make them join in on the conversation about the quality of South African cinema.