(Dialogue in English, Afrikaans and South African dialects)
Abroad look at black identity in South Africa through the characters of a disillusioned teacher and a younger, more idealistic man, “Fools” presses the right political buttons but is only half successful as a drama in its own right. Theatrical distribution looks to be highly specialized, with Eurotube playdates bringing this to a wider audience.
Pic is set in Charterston township in December ’89, at a time when Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned and political changes were a few years off. Zani (Hlomla Dandala), returning from an education in Swaziland, bumps into Zamani (Patrick Shai), a teacher, at Johannesburg train station. Zani has little respect for the older man, who earlier raped his sister, Mimi, but is still a respected township figure. To add to everything else, Zamani regularly abuses his wife, the long-suffering Nosipha (Dambisa Kente).
Before he gave up his ideals for the sauce, Zamani was once an anti-apartheid activist. Confused by the presence of Zani, Zamani invites him to lecture on politics at his school, which embarrasses the authorities. But slowly Zamani’s old courage returns, and one day he takes a stand for his principles when an Afrikaner threatens to beat up an old black man.
Though the storyline is laudable as a general portrait of the tensions and frustrations in pre-reform township society, the script and performances are very hit-and-miss. The scenes between Zamani and his wife are often clumsily played; far better are those between Zamani and Zani, with Shai, as the former, slowly growing in the role toward the ironic, somewhat sad ending (signaled in the film’s title).
In his first feature after a career in theater and shorts, Durban-born helmer Ramadan Suleman shows basic technical smarts and constructs an interesting panorama of township life, though script structure is somewhat confusing at first, with relationships unexplained.