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Izulu Lami
Original title: My Secret Sky
Genre Drama
Year: 2008

Izulu Lami is a South African film with a focus on street kids in Durban. The film encounters several themes surrounding children in South Africa including: a local fallacy that Aids can be cured by sleeping with a virgin, the problems with glue-sniffing street kids and petty crime. These contentious issues could easily recreate another City of God scenario in the slums of Durban, however the film's approach has been compared with Slumdog Millionaire.

Although, it's unfair to even contrast Izulu Lami with the aforementioned international films, which have drawn critical acclaim the world over. It isn't in the same league in terms of production values and these comparisons only create undue expectations. Izulu Lami holds its own as a unique South African story with strong urban/rural contrasts, and the performances are inspiring for their realism. Viewers should go in expecting a drama that deals in contentious themes within a harsh environment of petty crime and survival.

Madoda Ncayiyana writes and directs Izulu Lami, which translates to My Secret Sky. There's a good understanding and insight into how street kids live and how their survival instincts work. It's a take on Oliver Twist with the majority of the screen time taken up by the child actors as Thembi and Kwezi take their mother's almost sacred 'Secret Sky' mat to Durban in the hopes of creating a more prosperous future for themselves.

Izulu Lami introduces three new talents in Sobahle Mkhabas as Thembi, Sibonelo Malinga as Kwezi and Tshepang Mohlomi as Chili-Bite. The three make their performances seem natural, tapping into the innocence of childhood, while showing a deep understanding of their predicament as they are thrust into the hard-knock life of living on the streets.

Ncayiyana's landscape shots and photographic eye make the journey enthralling from the beautiful countryside of Kwazulu-Natal into the urban sprawl of Durban, a city by the sea. The beauty of the rural landscape and decay of the inner city make an interesting contrast, similar to films like Witness, where naive characters are forced to grow up quickly as they clash with the harsh realities of city living.

The kids are ostracized for being "country bumpkins", taken advantage of and learn to rely on themselves. It's a tough, coming-of-age drama that undersells Durban as a crime hotspot with a bad aftertaste. The film is shot in the children's mother tongue with English subtitles and some aspects of the drama are difficult to watch.

All in all, it's an intriguing foray into the lives of Thembi and Kwezi with complex characters like Chili-Bite to rock the boat. Izulu Lami creates awareness about drug, sex and poverty issues amongst children in South Africa by personalising the subjects for an international audience.

It's an amazing achievement, given the child cast and budget, however the film tries to wrap things up too quickly and loses some of its dramatic bite towards the end, leaving with a happy ending instead of closing on a more appropriate, thought-provoking note like The Visitor.

The bottom line: Realistic.


3.13/10 ( 23 Votes )
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