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Faith’s Corner

The voiceless world of the homeless is made literal in "Faith's Corner," a silent pic scored by Philip Glass that follows a mother and two sons begging in the streets of Johannesburg. Helmer Darrell James Roodt simplifies and sentimentalizes, paring down the story into almost child-like forms until it resembles a fairy tale.

With:
With: Leleti Khumalo, Thobani Khybeka, Sibonelo Xulu, Ivy Nkutha.

The voiceless world of the homeless is made literal in “Faith’s Corner,” a silent pic scored by Philip Glass that follows a mother and two sons begging in the streets of Johannesburg. As in his AIDS narrative “Yesterday,” helmer Darrell James Roodt simplifies and sentimentalizes, paring down the story into almost child-like forms until it resembles a fairy tale. Less didactic than “Yesterday,” but also achieving less of an emotional buildup, “Faith’s Corner” boasts the same creative team, including ace d.p. Michael Brierley, but won’t make it to greener fields on good intentions alone.

Pic’s visual wildcard is Roodt’s choice to shoot on old color film stock, using a hand-cranked camera. Results resemble less the silent films of the ’20s and more your great-aunt’s homemovies from the 1950s, complete with a yellowed patina and the occasional splice-like jerk. Intertitles relay all dialogue, while incidental sounds such as water pouring from a tap are layered in along with Glass’ music.

Faith (Leleti Khumalo, star of “Yesterday”) goes out each morning to a busy urban intersection to beg for change, accompanied by her two boys Siyabonga (Sibonelo Xulu) and Lucky (Thobani Khybeka). Scrupulously trying to raise her kids with some semblance of societal do’s and don’ts, she’s strict about manners and the basics of personal hygiene.

Life on the streets is predictably tough, and most of the passing motorists either ignore her or hurl insults. When told about a day care center for homeless kids, she can barely believe such a thing exists. Despite initial resistance, the boys discover it’s a lot nicer playing there than on a dirty traffic island next to their mom. Yet when Faith realizes her intake is lower without the tots beside her, she removes them from the center and brings them back to her usual corner — until the humiliation and pain become more than she can bear.

Story has been told many times before. Much as in “Yesterday,” Roodt leans toward the conventional, with a sentimental ending too old fashioned for an already less-than-fresh narrative. Chipper street signs (“100s of Jobs for You”) are used to heighten the sense that Faith has been left behind, but the device feels too obvious.

Close-ups of Khumalo convey the sense of dignity under adversity turning slowly into hopelessness, and as always, she carries sympathy as weightlessly as a feather — she picked up the best actress award at the Durban Fest. Newcomers Xulu and Khybeka hold their own, although the latter isn’t given much to work with.

The silent film trappings turn into a gimmick that would work best in a shorter format. D.p. Brierley’s beautifully lensed landscapes in “Yesterday” have been replaced with tighter, anonymous images of empty urban sprawl, using highly structured, if basic, shots that move from close-up to long shot and back again. Glass’ music, heavy on the piano and flute, begins well, but doesn’t so much connect scenes as provide themes for each section, further fragmenting the story into episodes rather than moving it along in a great sweep.

Faith's Corner

South Africa

Production: A Videovision Entertainment production, in association with Distant Horizon, Delta Films. Produced by Anant Singh, Helena Spring. Executive producers, Sudhir Pragjee, Sanjeev Singh. Directed, written by Darrell James Roodt.

Crew: Camera (color), Michael Brierley; editor, Avril Beukes; music, Philip Glass: production designer, Tiaan van Tonder; costume designer, Darion Hing; sound (Dolby Digital), Jeremy Saacks; sound mix, Philip Vail; casting, Christa Schamberger. Reviewed at Tromso Film Festival (Focus South Africa), Jan. 17, 2006. (Also in Rotterdam Film Festival.) Running time: 83 MIN.

With: With: Leleti Khumalo, Thobani Khybeka, Sibonelo Xulu, Ivy Nkutha.

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