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Movie Review: Thina Sobabili - The Two of Us

Thina Sobabili translated as The Two of Us is a brave, gut-wrenching and realistic drama about the exploits of a brother and sister in the Alexandra township of Johannesburg, South Africa. We're introduced to Thulani and his sister Zanele, who become the focus of this shoestring budget production, which was self-funded and shot in the space of a week.

While Thina Sobabili achieves the almost impossible thanks to some clever "Nollywood" techniques and grueling man hours, this drama hasn't lost its edge. If anything, the deadline pressures and mounting tension add to the look-and-feel of the production and the urgency of the performances.

It's a feature film debut for writer-director and producer Ernest Nkosi, who co-wrote the script with Mosibudi Pheeda. While Thina Sobabili ran the risk of collapsing under the weight of its emotional content and turning into melodrama, Nkosi manages to steer the film clear, navigating some contentious and timely issues regarding child abuse, sugar daddies and broken families.

The central tension surrounds Thulani's attempts to protect his "baby" sister, Zanele. She's grown into a beautiful girl whom even his friends are starting to notice, despite every effort to silence them. He's so busy being over-protective as the parent in the sibling relationship and telling her off that he pushes Zanele in the opposite direction into the arms of an attentive sugardaddy.

"Nah bra... what did you say about my sister?"

Emmanuel Nkosinathi Gweva plays Thulani, whose misdirected anger makes his character unpredictable and difficult to know. It's a sincere and heartfelt performance as Nkosinathi Gweva's character grows with our empathy. Busiswe Mtshali gives Zanele just the right balance of naivete and mischief as any scorned teenager feeling the burdens of home life and the tug of peer pressure. Together, Nkosinathi Gweva and Mtshali have great on-screen chemistry and history as brother and sister.

While the entire ensemble contribute earnest performances, it's Richard Lukunku whose complex performance as Skhalo almost steals the show. His brooding screen presence and devilish charms make his character fascinating to watch. While it's a difficult and grotesque role to take on, Lukunku doesn't hold back, immersing himself in the monster. Zikhona Sodlaka enables Lukunku as Zoleka. She captures the essence of a wife and mother trapped in a difficult situation, pushed to the edge and ready to retaliate.

Ernest Nkosi keeps a lid on this slow-boiling drama turned thriller as the realities of Alexandra township take their toll on a community. It's a fearless, powerful drama that confronts social issues head on, spinning its tale in a such a compelling and vivid manner that you sometimes wonder if it isn't a poetic allegory for a much broader South African story. We journey with the characters, are distressed by their emotional state and moved by the hopelessness of it all.

Thina Sobabili isn't easy-viewing, ranking alongside films like Themba for thematic content and intensity. While it takes a while to adjust to the slow-burn nature of the visuals with longer shots, there's a refreshing simplicity, honesty and beauty to it all. It's a wonderful accomplishment, when you consider its constraints and a promising testament to passionate film-making.

The bottom line: Compelling