- Last Updated: 10:58 AM, November 30, 2012
- Posted: 10:46 PM, November 29, 2012
In Zulu, with English subtitles. Running time: 95 minutes. Not rated (sex, violence, profanity). At MIST Harlem, 116th Street, between Fifth and Lenox avenues.
Giving your main character a name like “Otelo” lets an audience know what it’s in for right away. This South African movie’s Otelo (Jafta Mamabolo) is a teenager in the impoverished, violent township of Lamontville, on the eve of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.
With his friends New Year (Thomas Gumede) and Mandla (Sihle Xaba), Otelo discovers a way to escape: surfing the waves on the world-famous beaches of nearby Durban. But an Othello story must have its Iago, and Mandla becomes murderously jealous of his friend’s surfing prowess. Mandla’s revenge, when it comes, is horrifying, focusing on Otelo’s puppyish younger brother Ntwe (Tshepang Mohlomi).
The deliberately classic, predetermined structure means the movie neither carries much suspense nor needs a great deal of background information. So the frequent narration (framed as reminiscences from the adult New Year) is mostly an irritant, bringing up the “freedom” of surfing with numbing repetitiveness.
At times, director Sara Blecher seems to be letting the fascination of her setting do the work that the script can’t — as with the lights of Durban glittering beyond the squalid streets of the township.
Somehow, mostly through the impassioned performances of its young actors, the film finds its footing in the third act, as the narration goes quiet and tragedy unfolds with precision, even elegance. Blecher, rather than closing the film on a moment of bleak despair, finally offers a bit of hope that feels earned.