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Movie Review: Necktie Youth

Necktie Youth is a black-and-white drama with a documentary feel that attempts to capture the Zeitgeist of South African youth culture. We're thrown into an experimental haze of young, affluent and disillusioned South Africans, whose journeys intersect with the deeply affecting live-stream suicide of a local Jo'burg girl.

The born-frees find themselves in a transitional post-Apartheid South Africa, full of pain, injustice and the frustration of hollow political promises. Their identities are adrift, their culture is in a state of flux, their perception of adulthood is uncertain and the only way to cope is by tuning out.

Necktie Youth represents their world, numbing the dislocation with painkillers and drugs and seeking a sense of belonging and staving off their innocence-lost complex. Politics is of little concern and the only thing that feels real is the here and now. Without a sense of nostalgia for the past or hope for the future, they find themselves dedicated to the hedonism of the present.

Director and star, Sibs Shongwe-La Mer brings this dysfunctional portrait to life in what could be described as a mash-up of Clerks and KidsWhile a drama, the experimental energy, black-and-white film, neighbourhood subculture, coarse language, hedonistic ambition, cult appeal and disillusioned frame of mind recall Kevin Smith's Clerks. Then, while not quite as young or controversial, Necktie Youth has parallels with Kids in terms of the shooting style, myriad of interwoven characters and timely examination of a dysfunctional youth culture.

"We're off to see the wizard..."

The performances are naturalistic as Bonko Cosmo Khoza and Sibs Shongwe-La Mer provide a central and real bromance as Necktie Youth's "tour guides", Jabz and September. Colleen Balchin and Kamogelo Moloi's relationship as Tanya and Bogosi represents the hypocrisy of a society with one foot in the future and the other in the past.

The script has a raw urgency as the characters break into street lingo and wax lyrical about their latest exploits: reminiscing sexual conquests, debating the merits of the Internet, expressing their angst and getting philosophical about their disconnectedness. You get the impression that Shongwe-La Mer allowed his actors a certain amount of freedom, which enhances the realism.

The documentary edge gives Necktie Youth an experimental immediacy as the characters move from superficial day-in-the-life scenarios to honest on-camera interviews. They drive this life-and-times drama forward with their off-handed sentiment and next-fix addictions. The story has a linear flow, but isn't as important as the Dazed & Confused representation of this consequence-free state of mind. At times, it meanders as if by association propagating a lost youth, but losing some of its edge and focus in the process.

Necktie Youth is a stylish, thought-provoking, edgy and provocative drama, which while scattershot, leaves indelible images and timely universal sentiment with its audience.

The bottom line: Timely