Most of us are familiar with the term "dowry." Still relevant in some Asian, Middle Eastern, and African countries, a dowry is the provision the family of the bride makes for her future security by transferring property or wealth to the groom and his family at the time of her marriage. Less familiar is the "brideprice" or "lobola," a South African custom where the groom pays the family of his fiancée (in cattle or cash) for her hand in marriage. According to the definition, "The custom is aimed at bringing the two families together, fostering mutual respect, and indicating that the man is capable of supporting his wife financially." Based on a novel of the same name by Nape 'a Motana, Henk Pretorius' romantic comedy Fanie Fourie's Lobola makes knowledge of the South African custom available to the rest of the world in its depiction of the difficulties a loving couple faces when they try to bridge the racial divide. Winner of the Audience Award at the Seattle Film Festival and spoken in a mixture of Afrikaans, English and Zulu, the movie is a joyous odyssey filled with vibrant colors, comic situations, and an exuberant soundtrack filled with the rhythm of local artists such as Freshlyground, Radio Kalahari Orkes, and Jack Parow.
Like many films of the genre, FFL has contrived situations and a predictable outcome, yet half the fun is not where the film ends up, but the joy in getting there. The movie opens on a dare. Sarel (Chris Chameleon) an Afrikaans rock star, dares his brother Fanie Fourie (Eduan van Jaarsveld) to ask the next woman he sees in his cake shop to go with him to Sarel's wedding. The first one who enters is Dinky Magubane (Zethu Dlomo), a young Zulu woman who agrees to go with Fanie. The unlikely partners come from vastly different backgrounds with Fanie being raised in middle class surroundings in Pretoria, and Dinky growing up in a small village in Attridgeville, filled with rural shacks.
Fanie calls himself an "artist panlebeater" who painfully restores cars battered in mishaps of one kind or another. Dinky is a university graduate with a keen intelligence and has plans to start her own business though she has been rejected twice for financing. He is taken by her beauty, telling her on their first date how "exquisite" she looks in her green gown. They soon find out, however, what they are up against when the "black pixel" is removed from the family wedding photo. The sincerity of their relationship also does not quell the opposition of Fanie's judgmental family (Marga van Rooy and Richard van der Westhuizen or Dinky's father (Jerry Mofokeng), a Zulu traditionalist, though the film treats all of its characters with respect.
Dinky's father is willing to trade his daughter to the highest bidder and negotiates with those suitors he finds acceptable. Dinky, however, refuses to accept lobola, believing that it treats women as commodities to be bought and sold. The film, however, is neutral on the subject, depicting one view of lobola as a way of showing respect to the future wife and her family. Fanie must provide the lobola if he wants to win Dinky's hand but his failure to come up with the gift prompts his mother to tell him that it proves he isn't African. His reply, "If we're not African, what are we doing here?" does not solicit a response.
While all of this sounds very serious, the film is, in essence, a broad comedy and the potential heaviness of the theme is lightened by situations we can all laugh about. While on the surface Fanie and Dinky are worlds apart and neither knows very much about the others culture, as they spend time in each others world, the boundaries begin to dissolve and it is clear that Pretorius believes that, in the new South Africa, love can transcend the racial barriers and the rigidity of outdated traditions.
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