Auds accustomed to the African features that usually find offshore exposure — historical sagas, political statements, village-life depiction — are in for a surprise with “Yellow Card.” It’s much more akin to seriocomic U.S. teen pics, both in glossy style and rites-of-middle-class-passage content. Of course, there’s considerably more novelty in seeing Zimbabwean youths deal with the usual growing-up crises than there would be in the average “After School Special”; the pic’s take-responsibility-for-your-actions moral is just the same, though. While its commercialism makes arthouse export unlikely, prospects for the latest effort from John and Louise Riber (“Neria”) look bright in viable African markets. Offshore, the English-language feature will provide engagingly offbeat, accessible tube fare.
The pic’s breezy, non-hyperbolic presentation offsets script’s potential heavy-handedness, rendering the blunt “practice safe sex or this will happen to you” message easy enough to take. Seventeen-year-old protag Tiyane (Leroy Gopal) has little to complain about at the outset: He’s his school’s star soccer player, a good student and has a comfortable and supportive home life. Still, he’s restless, eager to spread his wings without making any hard commitments.
At the urging of “playa”-acting pal Skido (Collin Dube), he encourages the affections of pretty lifelong acquaintance Linda (Ratidzo Mambo). Taking shelter one evening from a convenient rainstorm, the duo give into the moment’s impulse with a shared first sexual experience.
Yet just hours later at an uncle’s wedding, Tiyane’s eye is caught by Juliet (Kasamba Mkumba), a vivacious girl of wealthy, mixed-race parentage. The attraction being mutual, Tiyane suddenly has no patience for Linda, who feels badly used. She soon feels a lot worse — fainting dead away during a class lecture on the perils of teen sexuality, she discovers their little episode has left a sobering consequence. Getting the news, Tiyane’s reaction is disbelief, then hostility.
Later, he finds Linda in bad shape after a botched attempt at terminating the pregnancy herself. She’s packed off to have the child far away, from scandal as well as Tiyane. Problem temporarily “solved,” he recommences wooing Juliet, who is a warier conquest than Linda, demanding commitment before sex.
But the past comes back to haunt Tiyane, just as it does boastful pickup artist Skido. Meanwhile, the pic’s final reel abruptly turns into a boy’s own “Baby Boom.”
This last, broadly comic section takes the film in a whole new direction that might well have been introduced earlier on. Nonetheless, the somewhat digressive, ambling narrative arc maintains interest under John Riber’s slick but non-manipulative direction. Script’s occasional lectures are defused by the surrounding emphasis on showing rather than telling: Teens and adults alike here are sketched without great depth, yet in pleasingly loose, everyday terms.
The feature could have benefited from a more expressive lead; the rangy Gopal is credible but keeps Tiyane’s conflicting emotions too internalized. Other thesps compensate with lively extroversion — possibly too much, in the case of Dube’s more-obnoxious-than-funny Skido.
Pace is unhurried but confident; bright lensing and production design limn a well-off, somewhat racially mixed African suburbia seldom seen onscreen. Soundtrack features generous chunks of Afropop tunes, though sometimes (as at a dance party thrown by Juliet’s schoolmates) one would be hard-pressed to differentiate the sounds and images from any North American or U.K. teenpic environs — a factor that might aid pic’s foreign marketability.
Tech aspects are high-grade; the few bits of local dialect went untranslated on print screened.