Review of 'Yesterday'

yesterday.jpg Yesterday (Leleti Khumalo) is a young Zulu woman living in rural South Africa bringing up her daughter Beauty (Lihle Mvelase). Suffering from coughing fits she makes the long trek to the health clinic where she is eventually diagnosed as being HIV positive. Supported by the new teacher (Harriet Lenabe) Yesterday travels to Johannesburg where she brings the sad news to her husband John (Kenneth Khambula) who does not take the news well. Despondent, Yesterday returns to the village only to have John return a short time later stricken and dying with the disease. Determined to see her daughter's first day at school Yesterday has to take care of her dying husband and keep alive herself…

A powerful and moving film that strikes me as being a very honest portrayal not only of the ravages of the HIV epidemic but also of rural Zulu live in South Africa. It is seldom we see films in the west that strive to show things as they are but here director Darrell Roodt does an admirable job (having lived in Africa myself the verisimilitude of this film is striking). Here he also demonstrates his powerful film-making skills with incredible, unflinching, long scenes with very little camera movement, showing extreme confidence in what he is doing and taking the time to tell the story, giving us a chance to take it all in. There is not much story here but the film seems full of it without any extraneous-ness in the telling. The South African countryside is beautiful and here we see it in it's amazing splendour. Life is hard here and the film makes no bones about it, unflinching in showing the day to day struggle it is to simply survive. Seeing Yesterday, wracked with disease still managing to climb a tree with an axe to chop firewood is touching stuff.

For the principal cast Roodt did not hire local people but instead brought in talented actors from across the country relying on the locals only as extras. He filmed largely on-site which adds a great deal to the film - It is visceral, drawing us into this world which many of us will never know. The story is, of course, tragic and really pulls at the heart-strings. Yesterday is a beautiful and incredibly kind, gentle woman who is innocently hit by this devastating disease making it all the more difficult to take in. Not a fun film this, but an important one. I have learned this film is used as an educational tool amongst rural South African schools which is no surprise as it shows not only the physical aspects of the disease but also the incredible emotional impact it has on the community - How a community's ignorance can shun just those people who need it's support the most. It is this that perhaps is the most tragic.

I have to say I never actually sought out this film. My mother brought it back from one of her visits to South Africa and it has been sitting of my shelf for many years now until I finally had a chance to watch it. I am glad I eventually did. A touching and stunning, though simple, drama that manages to touch and inform the viewer without being preachy.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2020-02-16

Directed by: Darrell Roodt

Studio: Distant Horizon

Year: 2004

Length: 90 minutes

Genre: Melodrama