I walked to the cinema not knowing what to expect, my level of loyalty is up there when it comes to South African film. I would not say I am part of the gatekeepers of this medium, but I do feel the need to play a role in shaping its future, as passion would dictate.
Well, with that said, the trailer of Akin Omotoso’s VAYA and other supporting visuals were enough to drag me to one of my least favorite cinema spaces. It had to do; it was the closest and probably the only one showing this film in my area.
VAYA is Omotoso’s latest offering which also premiered in Toronto International Film Festival in the Contemporary Cinema realm. A film with Zimkhitha Nyoka (Zanele), Sihle Xaba (Nhlanhla) and Sibusiso Msinmang (Nkulu) as leads. We meet our leads in a train; they are all traveling to Johannesburg with unique agenda. Zanele has to take her long lost sister's daughter to her infamous mother who resides in Johannesburg, and Nhlanhla is going to be with his cousin who is a big time shot in the city, he is hopeful that something promising awaits and he’ll make fortunes just like the brother. On the other hand Nkulu is headed to the mines to fetch his late father’s body so that he may be laid to rest. What unravels is a series of unfortunate events. All the characters are met with their own tailored experience of Johannesburg, fate of some sort, far from what they had imagined, their lives turn irreversibly.
All characters have important stories that you are likely to relate to or symphathize with. The narrative is significant and is bound to bring notable changes in the long run. The picture is raw with believable performances, it is as if you are meeting real characters the story is based on. Shot choices took us to a place we may not think of when we imagine ‘Johannesburg’; the landscape is with us throughout. I enjoyed few funnies in between; they were necessary for such a 'heavy' film.
I do feel that the characters were somehow lucky; their lives turned but could still be fixed. This film is what we expect from filmmakers of Omotosso’s caliber. It may not be a fast profit piece but the change it will bring to this land will remain its biggest mark.
The ending felt forced a bit, I think this was due to the connections of all the stories or characters in the end. What are the chances to have that happen, well, it's film world, who knows, we are in Jozi after all! It would have been groundbreaking to end the complex stories individually, perhaps have the montages, one after the other. The director could have chosen the story that was seemingly more important. Well, that is just preference and does not take away anything from the fundamental stories we should all be getting familiar with.
VAYA is on its second run at your nearest cinema, check it out!!
Image from LF Press Kit!