South African movies tend to have a pretty poor reputation amongst the locals, (probably because they usually aren’t all that good). Apart from Leon Schuster, and a few other local directors that cater for specific demographics, the movies that we make tend to do pretty poorly when compared to even the lowliest of their Hollywood counterparts. Things are looking good for Material (so far) with it placing in the top ten movies for South African box office earnings for 2012, and getting extremely positive reviews from all across South Africa. This is great because Material is a fantastic movie that truly deserves to succeed both critically and financially.
Set in Johannesburg, Material is a story about a young Muslim man, Cassim Kaif, who is torn between his love for stand up comedy, and meeting his father’s expectations and reviving the failing family fabric business. Cassim, knowing that his father would see his stand up as haraam, or forbidden, keeps his passion a secret. With his best friend Yusuf helping him covering his tracks, he does a small routine at a local bar, and then returns home, his father blissfully ignorant of what his son is getting up to. Things soon start to get complicated, and Cassim has to decide between his family or pursuing his dreams.
Material really caught me off guard. I had heard nothing about it until I saw a poster at the cinema, and had pretty much written it off since it would probably be another disappointing South African movie. A couple of weeks later, and I’d seen everything that I’d really wanted to see, and I’d started to hear whispers online that this movie was actually quite good, so I went and saw it.
Quite good would be an understatement. Despite the fact that I was raised in a completely non-typical Indian family, large sections of this movie really resonated with me. I was often in tears, or laughing at some of the jokes about Indian stereotypes, which helps bring me to my next point. While the trailer does, to a certain degree, mislead people into thinking that this movie is a comedy, I would be more inclined to say it’s a drama about comedy. This is not to say the movie isn’t often funny, because it is, but rather what makes it great is how it deals with issues like religion and tradition, and how they conflict with modernity and individuality.
A rather big problem with most South African movies is that the drama is often forced. This combined with poor acting, tends to make our stereotypical aids/poverty/race movies a terribly painful experience (but not in a good way). Thankfully Material has neither of these problems. The acting is top notch, and you’ll be quickly drawn in by the fantastic cast. Their feelings strike true, and I have no doubt that a lot of the actors in this movie were simply tapping into their own pasts to help elevate the level of emotion in this movie. Without going into too much detail, there is a particular scene where the father and son are fighting that encapsulates what I’ve described. It’s without a doubt one of the most moving scenes I have ever watched in any movie.
The actual comedy in this movie works a lot off the stereotypes of Indian people from Natal and Gauteng. My brother and I were both laughing ourselves silly, while some of the other people (no offence white folks who’ve never been to Natal) were left scratching their heads. There is still a lot on offer for people who are not as tuned into Indian culture, you might just miss some of the funnier jokes if you don’t know anything about South African Indians.
Movie rating: Oscar for best foreign film? Yes, it’s that good, so go see it and you’ll not be disappointed.