South Africa may have 11 official languages to reflect its rich patchwork of tribes and cultures, but the country’s modest film industry hasn’t taken many of them into account. That’s reason enough to welcome “Elelwani,” the first Venda-language feature in film history, onto the festival circuit, though Ntshaveni Wa Luruli’s stilted fusion of folktale and soap-opera sensibilities looks unlikely to spread the word very far. A dedicated lead turn by local TV star Florence Masebe, as an urban career woman blindsided when her parents sell her into marriage, could attract a sympathetic black audience when the pic releases domestically in October.
Having long ago left her rural tribe for the big city, Elelwani (Masebe) is blissfully engaged to urbanite Vele (Vusi Kunene), and has been offered a dream job in Chicago. When she learns her hand has already been promised to the tribal king back home, however, she’s torn between a glowing future and familial duty. Inflected with magical realism, the naive script clearly leans on the Venda culture’s oral storytelling tradition, but may play a little purple to Western ears. Lance Gewer’s bright widescreen lensing retains a televisual quality.