Tuesday, 23 October 2012

LFF 2012: Material

Craig Freimond's second feature length production Material stars Riaad Moosa and Vincent Ebrahim in the cross-generational story of a young man, Cassim (Moosa) who does not want to follow in the footsteps of his father, Ebrahim (Ebrahim) in their fabric shop in Fordsburg, Johannesburg and instead take on the career option of stand up comedy.

Freimond comes from a theatrical background and this in unison with Moosa's autobiographical tale of leaving his medical career for the same stand-up pathway, provides the foundation for the screenplay of this South African production.

The tone of the film is handled expertly between the dramatic conflict of a son refusing to follow in the tradition of his father and instead strike off for independence; and the laugh-out loud content of Cassim's set which takes the mickey out of his culture and religion ('When Europe had a swine flu scare, they all avoided pigs. We've been avoiding pigs for years!') and yet coming up with a catchphrase for all Indian people who are arriving late - 'Where are you?' 'I'm fifteen minutes away bra!'

At the start, Cassim seems happy but slowly and surely we see more and more of his nocturnal life, as if he is living a double life away from the prison of the Islamic household.  We also learn more of Ebrahim's history and why he comes across as so tyrannical, stemming from a long argument with his more affluent and successful brother who owns a fabric shop in the more prosperous Oriental Plaza a stone's throw from Ebrahim's shopping precinct.

Cassim also has a cousin Yusuf (Joey Rasdien) a typical comic supporting character - overweight, a bit thick but who has a quick put down similar to McLovin in Superbad; if you were to paint his silhouette you would remember him.  The dialogue between Rasdien and Moosa is at time so funny, it puts Hollywood bromances to shame with its intellect and quick wit.

The film even allows itself a romantic sub-plot when Cassim gets the thunderbolt (like Al Pacino in The Godfather) for Zulfa (Carishma Basday) a beautiful woman who has blossomed from the ugly duckling into quite the swan for Cassim to dote over.

The film's script which was partly improvised by the cast is dealt with admirably and goes against the grain on  occasion, such as when Ebrahim witnesses Cassim's first set at The Attic comedy club.  In Hollywood, this scene would have been handled differently, for example Cassim would have seen his father and frozen on stage (this does happen though later), instead Ebrahim has to feel the shame of (in his eyes) the blasphemous content whilst the arc of Cassim's development and growth as a comedian is seen for all its glory.  He gets laughs from all creeds and colours, showing the universal appeal of his material.

Keen eyed observers will feel the film is reminiscent of the notable British film East is East from 1999, however, whereas that film had a much darker subtext of domestic abuse this film is more focused on the generational battle and the rebuilding of burnt down bridges, as enforced by the matriarchal grandmother.

Like most dramedies the film's final act is prone to the sentimental finale, yet the joy of the characters and the conviction of the actor's performances allow us to become misty eyed for a good reason.  The ending does not feel forced, nor inevitable due to the universal pull of the story - the scene where Ebrahim's wife and Cassim's mother Fatima (Denise Newman) walks out of the fabric shop shortly after Cassim has, is quite moving in its less is more execution.  A plea for acceptance, a denial and then a walk out is evokes an amazing amount of emotion from such a small scene.

Material has enjoyed an amazing box-office run in its homeland of South Africa, and with the quality of the comedy being so good, the film should do well in foreign territories starting here in the UK where a large audience awaits it.

It received its UK premiere at the recent London Film Festival, and will be screening at Film Africa 2012 (@FilmAfrica #FilmAfrica2012) on Friday 2nd November at the Hackney Picturehouse followed by a Q&A with the star Vincent Ebrahim.

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