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Review: Izulu Lami

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

Director: Madoda Ncayiyane

Writer: Madoda Ncayiyane, Julie Frederikse

Genre : Drama

Cast: Sobahle Mkhabas, Sibonelo Malinga, Tshepang Mohlomi

Release year: 2008

Runtime : 90 min

I don’t often cry during films, but watching this film, I wept. This is Madoda Ncayiyane’s directorial debut for a feature film and he puts in a sterling effort. Considering the budget and young cast, the film holds its own, even winning the Dikalo best feature film prize at the International Pan-African Film Festival in Cannes.

Thembi (Sobahle Mkhabas) and Khwezi (Sibonelo Malinga) escape their cruel aunt in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal after their mother dies. They go to Durban in search of a white priest who used to commission their mother’s crafts. They bring with them the last piece, a hand woven mat and hope that showing it to the priest will offer them a better life.

When they reach Durban they are confronted with reality. They are suddenly part of the street kid community and are not accepted because of their rural temperaments. We watch their heart wrenching effort to survive and find the priest.

Izulu Lami (which means ‘my sky’ or ‘my heaven’) is an extended version of the 2001 short film The Sky in Her Eyes. Most of the cast are children, yet the acting standards are sky high. Since the film is Zulu spoken and has some pretty realistic portrayals of life on the streets, it may be hard for ‘sensitive’ viewers to take in. As Zulu is my mother tongue, I noticed that as always, subtitles don’t quite do the trick so, much may be missed.

The director has been criticized for downplaying the hardships of the lives of street children, but I found the film intimately poignant. Because of the subject matter it has been annoyingly compared to films like City of God and Slumdog Millionaire. But the best way to watch the film is to take it for what it is.

It is quite disappointing that the director chose to Hollywoodify the ending. While the story line appealed with its realism, the ending was quite far-fetched. Rushed and forced, it seemed too much like a pseudo-ending. Of course Ncayiyane had to pull it out (of somewhere) in order to reach more audiences. Perhaps it was necessary, but seriously, this is Africa – we don't do happy endings.

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