Set predominantly in the spectacular Eastern Cape of South Africa, THEMBA, is the moving story of a young Xhosa boy who dreams of being a soccer star and longs for his absent father to return home. His non-idyllic childhood in the rural Eastern Cape comes to an abrupt end when his mother is forced to look for work in Cape Town after losing her job, and he and his sister are left in the care of her lover. After Themba is raped, he and his sister go to look for their mother in Cape Town even though his soccer team stands to win the Eastern Cape Junior championships. They find her dying of AIDS. Themba has to force the fact that he, too, is infected. Against all odds, he realizes his soccer dream and plays for Bafana Bafana. This gives him the courage to take a public stand and tell the world that he is HIV positive. Written by
splendidly photographed, nicely scored and sincerely acted.
THEMBA - A BOY CALLED HOPE with Nat "Junior" Singo, Kagiso Mtetwa, Simphiwe Dana and Patrick Mofokeng, directed by Stefanie Sycholt.
THIS German/South African film about a youngster who overcomes poverty and adversity to become a star soccer player is splendidly photographed, nicely scored and sincerely acted. Similar in some ways to "Beat the Drum" and the Oscar-nominated "Yesterday", it focuses on Themba (Nat Singo, who also starred in "Beat the Drum"), a Xhosa boy who lives with his mom Mandisa (Simphiwe Dana) and sister Nomtha (Anisa Mhlungula) in a rural part of the Eastern Cape. They stay in a hut on a hill near Port St. Johns, and the view, like the countryside, is beautiful. But Themba's dad, Vuyo (Rapulana Seiphemo) deserted the family four years ago and their life is a daily struggle. Mandisa takes in former mine worker, Luthando (Patrick Mofokeng) as a lodger. Her becomes her lover, so when she loses her job and must travel to Cape Town to find work, Luthando - who drinks to much - stays on to look after the kids. Themba shows great promise as a footballer, but one terrible night Luthando tries to attack Nomtha. While Themba manages to save his sister, he ends up being raped. After this, the children pack up their meagre belongings and go down to Cape Town to search for their mother. They eventually find her living in a broken down shack in Masiphumelele township, but she is extremely ill. Fortunately, the brave, determined Themba has not lost his passion for soccer. And hope is just around the corner. All this might sound depressing, and the film is certainly very moving. Yet it is ultimately an uplifting, inspiring and enjoyable story with a happy ending, a strong message and much to say about HIV/AIDS. The charismatic Nat Singo is definitely the star of the show, but he is well supported by Kagiso Mtetwa who plays Themba's loyal friend Sipho, and both singer Simphiwe Dana (making her film debut) and Patrick Mofokeng ("Invictus") serve up excellent supporting performances. "Themba: A Boy Called Hope" juggles a lot of themes and two story lines that do not always hang together right, but it is a well made, interesting film that has already won a couple of awards in Germany. Hopefully it will find an audience in South Africa too. GRANT AUBIN.
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