A scene from The Unseen
Movie: The Unseen (Namibia)
Director: Perivi Katjavivi
Starring: Antonio David Lyons, Senga Brockerhoff, Mathew Ishitile
Before the lights dimmed in the cinema, I knew nothing about The Unseen, a new feature from Namibia that’s in competition at the Durban International Film Festival this year.
My only reference for a narrative feature from Namibia was a movie here in Durban a few years ago.
It was an epic forbidden love story set in the desert with dreams of water, one of those landscape and memory films I associate with apartheid-era fiction.
The way The Unseen references nature speaks volumes. A close-up of grains of sand tearing from a dune, detail of a common or garden ant scurrying, a giraffe running uncomfortably at great speed ... The visually striking black and white film consciously refuses to deploy old school narratives of nature, Aids, political corruption and the like.
Instead the documentary-style film plays out in the urbanscape, a character study of young people in Namibia that serves to explore post-colonial realities.
It’s often dark, but is always able to let in the light.
The performances are authentic and often gripping.
Sara returns to her country and experiences a mental breakdown.
Anu is a rapper and artist who cannot relate to his peers and turns to grand philosophical theories.
Marcus is an American actor in the country to play a liberation hero who finds himself wedged between cultures.
They are all in crisis, all looking for a new way to be in a world that does not particularly care for black life. Identity, self-love and a new way of being free emerge from the narratives.
Some feminists in the film’s premiere screening questioned the portrayal of women in The Unseen as mad or mildly promiscuous, but also discussed the intersectionality of the characters’ lives.
They can be taken together as different sides of one identity, one of agency, plurality and complexity.
Dystopian but never hopeless, The Unseen is an entirely new kind of cinema, inventing for itself a new language, refusing to be trapped in the past or shaped by white or western film models the way many South African films still are.
It’s one of the most exciting and visually beautiful films you’ll see here this year.
* If you’re in Durban don’t miss The Unseen’s final screening at the Musgrave cinema complex at 5.30pm today, June 23.