×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tribeca Film Review: ‘Necktie Youth’

Sibs Shongwe-La Mer's anguished youth-in-crisis debut sheds light on a rarely filmed side of suburban Johannesburg.

With:
Bonko Cosmo Khoza, Sibs Shongwe-La Mer, Kelly Bates, Colleen Balchin, Kamogelo Moloi, Emma Tollman, Jonathan Young, Giovanna Winetzki, Ricci-Lee Kalish, Kim Weinberg, Michael Hall, Jaime Rademeyer, Patrica Boyer. (English, Zulu, Afrikaans dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4515662/

Drastic extremes of poverty and privilege have long been interlocked in Johannesburg, yet while the city’s reputation as a township-encircled crime capital has informed the likes of “Tsotsi” and “District 9,” fewer films have centered on the quieter turmoil seething behind the high walls of its moneyed suburbs. Twenty-three-year-old Sibs Shongwe-La Mer’s anguished, abrasive debut feature, “Necktie Youth,” should therefore come as an eye-opener to international auds, even as the millennial concerns it documents — substance abuse, sexual recklessness, insecure economic futures — are far from culturally exclusive. It’s Johannesburg’s still-shifting social and racial politics that lend distinctive fragility to a strain of youthful ennui that has been portrayed everywhere from Beverly Hills to Bridgend. Structurally wayward but vigorously felt and visualized, Shongwe-La Mer’s fest-friendly film — already screened at Berlin and Tribeca — captures both a generation and city in crisis.

The film’s title has a blunt, literal application evident from its grim pre-credits sequence, as Emily (Kelly Bates) — a young white woman living with her parents in Johannesburg’s plush northern suburbs — hangs herself from a tree in the family’s large, well-tended back garden. The necktie, however, is also a standard component of South African school uniforms across all social classes: an early marker of the discipline and conformity that the immature adults under Shongwe-La Mer’s gaze, drifting as they are through their post-matriculation years, have left unguardedly behind.

The pic’s dry-voiced, caustically omniscient narrator observes that Emily’s suicide takes place on June 16, 2013. Shongwe-La Mer leaves it to informed viewers to note that it’s the same date as Youth Day, a national public holiday commemorating lives lost in the Soweto uprising of 1976, when students rioted in response to the injustices of the apartheid education system. The subtext is solemnly pointed: Nearly 40 years later, young South Africans are still dying from dissatisfaction, yet without an equivalently clear, unifying cause.

Shongwe-La Mer’s racially varied human subjects largely belong to what South Africans have come to term the “Born Free” generation: Born after Nelson Mandela’s liberation and into a new democracy, they haven’t directly known the horrors of the country’s political past, yet are still living with its legacy. “Things have been better since they got rid of that apartheid s–t,” the narrator states dispassionately, before sniping that “there was only one Mandela, and that was sheer luck.”

The kids here seem collectively disillusioned with the present-day regime, led by the corruption-plagued African National Congress, though there is material evidence of post-apartheid progress: Principal characters Jabz (Bonko Cosmo Khoza) and his best friend, September (played by the helmer), are members of the country’s black nouveau riche, residing in modern family mansions in the formerly alabaster-white enclave of Sandton. Their mixed collective of friends further points to societal integration, but racial prejudice lingers in more internalized forms: It’s a jolt to hear Jabz and September direct the N-word (the slur itself indicative of a youth colonized by Western culture) at lower-class black individuals.

The pair are peripherally connected to Emily via schoolmates, and her death — live-streamed over the Internet, in the bleakest imaginable outcome of the currently prevalent “selfie” mentality — sends oddly resigned ripples of despair through their social circle. Jabz, already in a self-destructive, drug-accelerated funk, is particularly unhinged by the news. Shongwe-La Mer’s vignette-based narrative sprawls in loose, spidery fashion over the course of a day to eavesdrop on a range of their contemporaries, including cross-dressing drug dealer Matty (Matthew Hall) and well-to-do Jewish girls Tali (Giovanna Winetzki) and Rafi (Ricci-Lee Kalish), who disaffectedly ponder alternative courses of sexual experimentation: the options of sleeping with each other, or with uncircumcised black men, are weighed up with equally idle interest.

It’s not the most sympathetic ensemble of victims, and their cynical musings do pall over the course of 90 minutes, though that may be the point: Shongwe-La Mer is actively challenging his audience to listen, before nihilistically arguing that empathy may be futile anyway. “Sometimes kids are f–ked up, and there’s nothing you can do for them,” the narrator notes with an audible shrug.

In a film light on redemptive possibility, the rigid, rigorous black-and-white compositions by d.p. Chuanne Blofield offer appropriately little give, tarring Johannesburg’s most picturesque suburbs, its grottier transitional districts and its rolling tangle of connecting roads with much the same brush. The pic’s visual language is stark enough that Shongwe-La Mer’s more unruly stylistic affectations — as when the screen is sporadically plastered with bold-face phrases like “white gurl” or “uncircumcised cocks” — seem needlessly juvenile.

Popular on Variety

Tribeca Film Review: 'Necktie Youth'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 13, 2015. (Also in Tribeca Film Festival — competing.) Running time: 91 MIN.

Production: (South Africa) An Urucu Media presentation in co-production with 100% Halaal in association with Whitman Independent. Produced by Elias Ribeiro. Co-producers, John Trengove, Gijs Kerbosh, Roel Oude Nijhuis, Gijs Determeier.

Crew: Directed, written by Sibs Shongwe-La Mer. Camera (B&W, widescreen), Chuanne Blofield; editor, Matthew Swanepoel; production designer, Ronmari Van Tonder; costume designer, Tamsyn Hobbs; sound, Tim Pringle; re-recording mixers, Pringle, Janno Muller; stunt coordinator, Alan Fyfe; line producer, Nicole Kitt; associate producer, Kitt; assistant director, Cole Matthews.

With: Bonko Cosmo Khoza, Sibs Shongwe-La Mer, Kelly Bates, Colleen Balchin, Kamogelo Moloi, Emma Tollman, Jonathan Young, Giovanna Winetzki, Ricci-Lee Kalish, Kim Weinberg, Michael Hall, Jaime Rademeyer, Patrica Boyer. (English, Zulu, Afrikaans dialogue)

More Film

  • Aracne

    Chile’s Sanfic, Mexico’s Morbido Fest Pact to Promote Latino Horror (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mexican horror festival Morbido and Chile’s Santiago Intl. Film Festival (Sanfic) have agreed on a long-term collaboration intended to strengthen the genre film industry in Chile and across Latin America. This partnership will see Morbido representatives attend the Sanfic industry section each year to aid in the promotion of horror projects and advise those projects [...]

  • Tom Holland'Spider-Man: Homecoming' film premiere, Arrivals,

    Tom Holland Addresses Spider-Man’s Studio Divorce at D23: ‘I Love You 3000’

    British actor Tom Holland showed face on the main stage at D23 on Saturday, in the thick of an ugly studio battle over the rights to his iconic Marvel character Spider-Man. Headlines have been rolling in for days about the contentious battle for the cinematic future of the hero, after Sony Pictures became unwilling to [...]

  • Soul Movie

    Pixar's 'Soul' Announces Voice Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey to Star

    Disney debuted a first look at upcoming Pixar film “Soul” at the D23 expo in Anaheim, Calif. and announced its star-studded voice cast. “Soul” imagines that every person on earth comes pre-installed with a soul formed and perfected in a cosmic realm. Jamie Foxx will play a middle-school music teacher on earth who dreams of [...]

  • Emma Stone Variety Actors on Actors

    First Look at Emma Stone in Disney's Live-Action 'Cruella' Drops

    Emma Stone’s Cruella de Vil is significantly more punk rock than her animated counterpart. Stone appeared via video message to debut the first look of the titular character in Disney’s “Cruella” at D23 on Saturday, also revealing that it will take place in the punk rock era of the 1970s. In the first photo, Stone [...]

  • ‘Mulan’ Star Skips D23 Press Amid

    'Mulan' Star Crystal Yifei Liu Skips D23 Amid International Controversy

    Crystal Yifei Liu, the star of Disney’s live action remake of “Mulan,” skipped the press line and Disney panel at Disney’s D23 expo Saturday in the heat of the #BoycottMulan controversy. Unlike the other portions of the Saturday Disney panel, which featured both stars and directors for the other films presented, the “Mulan” panel was [...]

  • Marvel Stars Want Tom Holland's Spider-Man

    Marvel Stars Want to Keep Tom Holland's Spider-Man in the MCU

    Marvel fans aren’t the only ones heartbroken that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man might not be in the Marvel Cinematic Universe anymore. “It really is sad. First off, he’s the greatest Spider-Man to me. He actually has that youthful energy,” Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Scarlet Witch in the MCU, told Variety at D23 on Friday. “He’s been [...]

  • Kit Harington

    'Game of Thrones' Star Kit Harington Joins 'The Eternals'

    Jon Snow is leaving the North. “Game of Thrones” star Kit Harington is joining the cast of “The Eternals” as Dane Whitman, also known as the Black Knight, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced Saturday on the main stage at D23. Feige also confirmed Gemma Chan’s appearance in the film as Sersi, another member of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content