Saturday, January 20, 2007

Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon

2005, South Africa, directed by Khalo Matabane

A drama-documentary hybrid, Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon starts off in somewhat confused fashion, before gathering itself and building to an often absorbing portrait of contemporary South Africa as a migrant destination, with many of the dispossessed arriving in the country after experiences that challenged even those who have come through the apartheid system. The initial confusion is perhaps appropriate, as we follow a rather lost young man in the Johannesburg park where he spends his afternoons sitting and trying to make sense of the world around him. A brief encounter with a young Somali woman, who tells him a profoundly moving story of loss and suffering, suddenly gives him focus and energy, and he assembles a rich collection of immigrant portraits as he searches for Fatima, the Somali woman.

The fictional framework is of the thinnest cloth, and functions entirely as a pretext for the interviews, which are with genuine migrants and refugees (from a bewildering variety of locations: Ethiopia, Uganda, DR Congo, Mozambique, Gaza, South Korea, the former Yugoslavia and so on); many of them are fascinating and pose difficult questions about national identity and South Africa's position and responsibilities on its own continent. The refugees often place South Africa in an unexpectedly privileged position when measured against some of its neighbours, despite its own troubled history, though the film doesn't minimise any of the experiences described.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States