Thursday, March 14, 2013

TBFF Film Review - Lucky

The title of the film is the direct opposite to most of the experiences of the main character in Dr. Avie Luthra film Lucky. The title character is a 10 year old boy who appears to be in the care of extended family members and looks out of places amongst the other members of his village. Shortly a casket is brought to the town with the remains of his mother who has died in the city from HIV/Aids. Refusing to eat which is a sign of respect for the recently deceased Lucky (Sihle Dlamini) decides to run away from his village and go to the city determined to obtain an education and enroll in school.

Once in town he heads to an apartment block where his Uncle Jabulani (James Ngcobo) resides.  Lucky shows up at his Uncles door to a less than warm greeting. His Uncle does not recognize him at first but eventually invites him in to the small apartment and points to a worn couch for him to sit and sleep.

The next morning Lucky arises and asks his Uncle to take him to school.  Uncle Jabulani says there is no money and heads to work leaving Lucky a tape that his mother made for him before she died.  Left alone to fend for himself Lucky explores the apartment complex for a location to play the tape.

Wondering around the complex he overheads an elderly Indian woman Padra (Jayashree Basavra) being hassled by three young girls as she is trying to get water. Lucky goes to investigate and sees that the woman has a cassette player visible in her apartment. He sneaks into a store to obtain some water and brings it for her. She is very cautions at first but lets him in to her apartment. When her back is turned Lucky tries to leave with her cassette player only to be discovered and chased away.

Padma's mistrust of Africans is overtly displayed noting that the complex was once Indian and now has changed.  She also notes  the lack of ambition of the black adults in the community. However she grows to care for Lucky and despite the lack of a common language does her best to help him to succeed with the assistance of a taxi driver from the local stand that speaks English and Zulu. Padma has her own ulterior motives when she learns that the government will give her a monthly stipend for taking care of Lucky. The only stipulation being that he has to go to school which is strictly monitored.

Shot with an abundance of hand held camera work by cinematographer Willie Nel the film follows the title character around the streets of Durban as he tries to find his place in the city all the while bouncing  from one misadventure to another. After his experience with is Uncle, Lucky realizes that the adults in his sphere will not be helpful and in fact are more likely harmful so he sets out on his own to find his way.

Writer Director Luthra who holds a doctorate in forensic psychology presents a film that is polar opposite from the expected path. A film with a 10-year-old Orphan as a central character would be expected to invoke sympathy towards the character building a rooting interest in the audience. Instead Lucky is very opportunistic and does friendly acts for his own purposes and advancement.  At one point he even steals another boys school uniform to attend classes in a rival school during his travels around Durban and is downright cruel to Dumaisani (Vusi Kunene) his mother's the last friend and past boyfriend a man that could ultimately be his father.

The sets are the key to driving the events.  The village with it's sparse buildings, fresh graves and featuring a fire pit as the town centre is a sharp contrast to the apartment complex in Durban that has a voyeuristic element where both Lucky and Padma lurk watching the actions of the other tenants using its open spaces to overhear conversations or track people as they come and leave the complex. The remote residence of Dumisani gives the impression of a solitary man that wishes to be left alone.  The main set is the city of Durham itself as we follow Lucky around in his travels through out the city and the people he meets as he searches for his place in the world from students of a rival school to a gang of street kinds out near the railway tracks.

The two leads are well cast first timer Sihle Dlamini plays off the veteran actress who has been on stage since the age of 4. The best exchanges are when they try to communicate to each other neither speaking the others language. These interactions lead to delightful conversations where hand gestures and pointing come into play and sentences are repeated and activities demonstrated several times for emphasis.

Director Luthra gives comments on the new South Africa in this film. The film explores the racial tension between India and Africans once segregated are now living literally next door to each other. He also touches on the rural city split and the lack of education in the rural areas for children and knowledge of HIV/Aids. Luthra is a filmmaker with a message to deliver. I recommend this film but look elsewhere if your aim is a feel good story about a 10-year-old orphan.

*** out of 4

Lucky | Dr. Avie Luthra  | South Africa | 2011| 100 Minutes.

Inaugural Toronto Black Film Festival.

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