Monday, November 16, 2009

Movie Review : Yesterday.

Title: Yesterday

Starring: Leleti Khumalo, Lihle Mvelase, Kenneth Kambule, Harriet Lehabe, Camilla Walker, Nandi Nyembe

Producer(s): Anant Singh, Helena Spring

Director/Writer: Darrell James Roodt

Year of production: 2004

Country: South Africa

Genre: Drama

Language: isiZulu


I could review this powerful movie the way I do all the others, but it has been thoroughly reviewed by professionals, so I am just going to borrow my favorite:

Yesterday is a film of perseverance and constant struggle. Set in a remote village in South Africa’s Zululand, the film’s title and main character is a heroine in every sense of the word. The cinematography is apparent upon the film’s first scene, set against a shot of scorched grass, billowing in the wind, with some faintly distant, shadowy mountains lurking on the horizon. This sight, in conglomeration with the idiosyncratic hum of Madala Kunane’s music, proves that Darrel Roodt has keen sense of photography and how to entrap his viewers at first sight, and hold them ransom for his film’s duration; Furthermore showing his aesthetic eye for film-making.
The film’s first scene is of Yesterday, the film’s protagonist, and her daughter aimlessly walking down a beaten path, cast against the shadowy mountains in the distance. The destination of said walk is unknown upon first sight but becomes lucid upon dialogue between Yesterday and Beauty, her young daughter. It is on this walk that we are given beautiful, endearingly innocent poetry from Yesterday’s daughter in the form of her simple question; “why am I not a bird? Then I could fly where we’re going.” It is from this point that the film’s subtle tone is set. Yesterday deals with one of the most pressing and vitally important issues in Africa today; the issue of AIDS and the lack of knowledge therein amongst African peoples. This walk is the beginning of a terrible descent into one’s personal hell; Yesterday’s diagnosis with AIDS. As the film carries on, numerous accounts of her dealing with this illness are shown and we witness how she copes with her condition of physical and health damnation. The society in which Yesterday and her daughter Beauty reside in are largely ignorant of the AIDS epidemic and its causes, thus making it nearly impossible to treat given their country’s lack of moral and material help for this disease.
Yesterday is predominantly an introspective portrayal of life under the tyrannical damnation of the incurable. However, the film surprisingly gives no allegiance to any political side or stance, though the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions upon the movie’s end. Nevertheless, the film portrays one woman’s struggle against the invincible ailment of AIDS. Given Yesterday’s lack of knowledge, she knows nothing of the horror of her diagnosed condition. This does not distract her from seeking to provide her daughter with the things she never had, primarily, an education. However, her natural perspicacity affords her the opportunity to see things in a lucid manner. Regardless of her poverty and lack of all commodities in life, this allows her clear sight into the “life” of things even though death is imminent, given her diagnosis. She finds inner strength in the midst of this terrible disease and this keeps her fighting for her daughter – her reason to live. As the film moves forward, events conspire against her, yet she remains stagnant in her position to give her daughter the life she never had and protect Beauty from the epidemic that will soon end her life. Ironically, as these conspiring events build against Yesterday, they also embolden her for the future at the same time. For example, she is aggressively confronted by her husband, the man who gave her AIDS; then soon thereafter, they are reconciled. She is ostracized by the villagers she lives near by virtue of their belief that her disease is the direct result of a moral shortcoming – thus rendering her alone to fight AIDS. Yet this abandonment from her fellow villagers leads her to the local schoolteacher whom is heartfelt for her condition. This encounter ignites a friendship that sustains Yesterday throughout the rest of the film’s duration. These events of despair and hope allow her to remain strong for her daughter and live to help her and see that she is educated.
An interesting dichotomy surfaces as her death sentence inspires her to live. For a moment it seems that every time something bad or derogatory occurs, it engenders something positive. Throughout the film’s duration we see the effects AIDS has on our protagonist and these effects are vividly clear physically and in terms of her personality. She is physically sick yet remains strong in heart. We see the awful toll the AIDS virus takes on a person by witness of the frighteningly explicit portrayal of her husband’s condition. Yet through it all, we can see the “nadir and zenith” of the human spirit and condition in Yesterday. Her courage in the face of irreversible adversity is heart-wrenching and moving. Given a death sentence with AIDS, she is not repressed in spirit and her actions epitomize heroine, time and time again. Characters such as Yesterday evoke a certain emotion out of an audience. One that can render strength from illness, courage from fear, love from death, and hope from despair, is the ultimate protagonist and true victor in heart over any antagonist. When the darkest of times come, Yesterday’s spirit rises and soars. This is particularly interesting because Roodt allows his film to center around Yesterday and her condition yet the film never descends into self-loathing territory. On the contrary, it clearly shows that AIDS is a part of life in Africa. Like cancer in the United States, if one lives long enough, they will have to deal with it on one level or another.
The most interesting relationship and arguably the most important facet of the film is the friendship Yesterday has with the schoolteacher. This is due to her knowledge of Yesterday’s condition and the seriousness of what AIDS is, thus allowing her to evince a kindred spirit of compassion. Most importantly, it is here that the film’s philosophical crux is manifested: A subtle plea/hint at the revelation of education to the masses in Africa in regards to the AIDS virus. This is so important because it is only through this education that understanding can engender humanity and reasonably preventative action for the AIDS epidemic. This is a point that Roodt clearly does not want to push or throw into the viewer’s face. He has no need to do this as his message speaks so humbly and eloquently itself. The descent of Yesterday’s health becomes the ascent of her mental and spiritual being. She garners strength from illness and gives credence to the thought that humans can rise above a physical condition in times of dire need. Though this film was shot on a budget, Roodt makes up for it with his picturesque cinematography and photography. He has an unerring aesthetic eye for detail and this is procured throughout the film’s duration.


Ebert's review

What can I add? Simple, almost slow, but powerful movie. Very, very moving.

Please watch it if you can. I got mine from the public library, so I know it is widely available in the US.

Highly recommended, very touching!!



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This website is devoted to fans of African movies who want to know which ones are worth watching. We only review above average movies on this site. The purpose is to give props to the actors, producers and directors who have squeezed water out of rocks and created decent entertainment against all odds. If you want to review a movie for us, please email We would be happy to feature all good african film, regardless of age, or origin. Thanks for stopping by