The Forgotten Kingdom
This year’s opening night film takes the standard “wayward son returning home after a tragedy” narrative and crafts a complex and emotionally enriched narrative not only about the estrangement between fathers and sons, but also between cultures, economies, and between the nations of South Africa and Lesotho.
Atang (Zenzo Ngqobe), a young man in his early 30s, is asked to leave the slums of Johannesburg, where he’s barely scraping by, to bury his estranged father in the village from his childhood in Lesotho. Already annoyed that everyone in his ancestral village still sees his father as a saint, Atang begins a journey of rediscovery spurned on by meeting up with an orphaned streetwise teenage hustler (Lebohang Ntsane) and his renewed interest in a childhood crush (Nozipho Nkelemba), who is about to be forced into an arrange marriage with an uncaring lout.
With his debut feature, writer and director Andrew Mudge examines a variety of different topics with enough pace to let them all sink in and the dexterity to never give any easy or clichéd answers. His looks at tradition, varying degrees of poverty, and the distinctly different rhythms of life in South Africa and Lesotho are all deftly handled, but the real revelation is how he tells his core story. This is a story of a young man who wants to explore his past not because of some kind of grand, false ringing epiphany, but rather because he genuinely always wanted answers. Even when the film switches viewpoints for a bit towards the end, it serves as a bridge between one journey ending and another beginning. The fact that Mudge can do it all without turning the whole thing into an uplifting, feel-good crowd pleaser at every turn is certainly refreshing.
Tuesday, February 11th, 7:00pm, Isabel Bader Theatre (Opening Night Gala)