Directed by: #NdumisoMnguni
This 2015 short from #BarnhausCollective has a wistful production quality which is both beautiful and almost haunting, but the narrative structure does present some problems.
Set in rural South Africa, the film is a sequence of flashbacks from the perspective of Lighthouse, a young boy, whose best friend Bongani has committed suicide. Lighthouse has returned home in the aftermath of this sad event. Bongani’s charismatic nature means he was a popular boy and it is clear his death has had a profound impact on his three closest friends with his girlfriend Mbali devastated and feeling unwanted and his friend Stereo completely withdrawing and becoming mute, only interested now in old music and tinkering with audio equipment. Lighthouse tries to keep them all going with his light humour, but the damage has been done and the subtitled narrative captures a huge sense of loss and regret quietly, but effectively. The story is touching; quite a feat in a film that is only seven minutes long, with a series of flashbacks, accompanied by soft backing tracks such as Somewhere over the rainbow and slow harmonica chords, really capturing the tragic note of the story.
Inevitably though, the question turns to why: why would a charismatic young man commit suicide? The film sets out to tell us, but it isn’t particularly clear and it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear audiences had missed this moment altogether. This important reveal is made in the dying moments of the film – structurally a relevant and impactful decision – but it isn’t obvious enough, being delivered through an audio recording on an old cassette, the voice unrecognisable as that of Bongani’s – a voice not heard at any point during the film. The audience’s lack of familiarity with Bongani – a character we have only observed, not heard - becomes a major flaw and jeopardises the effect of this otherwise quite pretty short film, which deserves credit for its cinematography and sound.
Visually this is a captivating film, wistful and nostalgic, but its impact is threatened by a lack of clarity in the script.