Friday, August 29, 2014

The Forgotten Kingdom [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R) (3 1/2 Stars) (4 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing (T.Bang) review (T. Owen) review (P. Mabandu) review

IndieWire (V. Martinez) review
Orlando Weekly (B. Manes) review

The Forgotten Kingdom [2013] (written and directed by Andrew Mudge), a movie filmed in South Africa and Lesotho using entirely local actors and actresses recently closed the month long, ever popular 2014 (20th) Annual Black Harvest Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. The film is also now available for streaming using the Amazon Instant Video service for a reasonable price.

The film tells the story of an initially directionless 20-something youth named Joseph / Atang Mokoenya (played by Zenzo Ngqobe) who at the beginning of the film was living in a small apartment in a tenement in Johannesburg ("Jo-berg"), South Africa.  He's informed by some of his friends that his father (played in flashbacks throughout the film by Jerry Phele), living in a shack in the Soweto neighborhood at the outskirts of town, was very ill.  Receiving the news as more an imposition on his time (not that he'd have much else to do with his time ... as he was unemployed and not particularly concerning himself with looking for work) than a concern, he sighs, rolls his eyes and decides to (eventually) go out there.

When he arrives, he's chewed-out by a neighbor-woman for being such a typically uncaring grown child of a sick parent.  Seething, but trying not to show disdain now, he endures her lecture and then proceeds to his father's shack, only to find that he's not answering when he knocks on the door.  Removing a plank from a window, her crawls in, and discovers, of course, that his father is dead.

Since the father wasn't terribly old, about 50 or so ... the assumption is that he probably died of some AIDS related illness.  This in part, but certainly _only_ in part, explains some of Joseph's disdain for his father.  Contracting HIV/AIDS remains a cause for shame in South Africa.

Some of Joseph's similarly listless, directionless friends from Jo-Burg arrive.  One of them goes over to a local tavern to get some beers.  Together they pull off a few planks from Joseph's dead father's shack to light a small bonfire, and together they toast with _some_ (but certainly not a lot) of respect the memory of Joseph's dad.

It is now that somebody asks Joseph what he's going to do with his dad's body.  Joseph shrugs not really knowing the answer.  However, someone then, a neighbor perhaps, informs him that Joseph's dad was prepared in this regard for his demise (as well as for his well-predicted assumption that his son wouldn't have a clue what to do ...).  As such, the father had paid the local undertaker for a respectable casket and transport ALONG WITH AN ACCOMPANYING TICKET FOR HIS SON to his home village in Lesotho.

Now Lesotho is small mostly mountainous kingdom in Southern Africa that due to its very inaccessibility had always kept its independence through the whole of the Colonial and later Apartheid Eras.  It was just "too far away" and didn't have much to offer in terms of minerals for the white settlers / colonial powers to bother with conquering.  So except for Anglican / Catholic missionaries the people of Lesotho were left alone (and the legacies of both the Catholic and Anglican missionaries were also portrayed in a generally benign way in the film as well).  Lesotho, for the most part, would seem to be as "forgotten" a Kingdom as the title of the film proclaims.

But Joseph's dad, being from there, did not forget.  And if not really in life then at least in death, Joseph's dad reminds him of his roots (and early childhood there) as well.  Indeed, the neighbor who tells Joseph of his dad's already purchased funeral plans reminds Joseph that his Lesothan name was actually Atang.

Wonderful.  So Joseph (er Atang), unemployed anyway, takes his dad's body back to Lesotho for burial.  And this is when the story, of course, really begins:

Since Joseph-Atang had little except for a generic set of friends "of the street" back in Jo-Berg anyway, he "lingers" in Lesotho for a while after his dad's burial.  It's not that Joseph-Atang suddenly "fell in love" with the remote country of his birth.  He did not.  It's just that _nothing_ in Atang-Joseph's life had much of a direction to it.  So there was no particular reason for him to rush back home now.  And he stays long enough to run into a childhood friend, a school teacher, named Dineo (played by Nozipho Nkelemba) who remembers him and he takes a liking to (and she to him).  And so he decides to stay for a bit longer than he thought he would before.

Now Dineo's father (played quite well by Jerry Mofokeng) sees the recently arrived (but apparently penniless) "city slicker" Atang hanging around his daughter suddenly.  And so he decides to scare him back to Jo-Berg: "Hey you, if you respect me and my daughter then do the right thing and marry my daughter.  And my bride's price (for her hand in marriage) is no less than ..."   Since Dineo's father _was right_ about him (at least initially), and Joseph-Ateng was indeed penniless, Joseph-Ateng "snapped out of his spell" and got on the next bus back to Jo-Berg.

BUT ... on the way back to Jo-Berg, he perhaps realizes that in Dineo HE FINALLY HAS SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR.  So HE DOES GET A JOB in a number of the mines in area ... and eventually returns back to the Lesothan village of his birth to pay the bride's price for Dineo ... only to find her and her father / sister GONE.

Where'd they Go?  Well Atang knew that Dineo's sister was ill (again in some stage of HIV/AIDS).  That's why Dineo, healthy, had stayed on at home ... to take care of her.  Again, HIV/AIDS remains a cause of shame for a family.  SO when it became impossible to hide his other daughter's illness, Dineo's father MOVED THE WHOLE FAMILY ACROSS THE MOUNTAINS CLEAR TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE KINGDOM to "protect" them (and himself...) from "gossip."

The rest of the movie then is about Ateng-Joseph along with an orphan boy (played by Lebohang Ntsane) from the village of his birth (who reminded Ateng-Joseph a lot of himself when he was the boy's age) crossing the mountains of Lesotho to return to his, now, Love.

It makes for a very nice story.  The last part of the film, shot in the mountains of Lesotho, is absolutely beautiful.  And the story also touches on universal themes.  Indeed, in the past year, I've three movies from three continents -- the Argentinian/Bolivian film La Paz [2013], the Indian film The Lunchbox [2013] and this one from South Africa / Lesotho -- in which the central (or otherwise key) characters only found peace by leaving their largely meaningless existences in Buenos Aires, Mumbai, and (now) in Johannesburg and finding starting new lives in the mountains of Bolivia, Bhutan and now Lesotho

I appreciated the film further because my (United States) Province of the Servite Order founded and has maintained the Catholic mission to KwaZulu (Zululand) which borders Lesotho (and one of our Italian Provinces was responsible for the Catholic mission to nearby Swaziland.  The film, beautifully shot, particularly in the latter two-thirds of the film, when the story takes place in the Lesothan countryside can help viewers appreciate the rugged beauty of that part of the world.

Overall, great film!  And, again, it's available for streaming for a reasonable price on Amazon Instant Video.

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