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Material
Genre Drama
 
Review:

Material is one of the smartest, most heartwarming movies to originate from South Africa, telling the story of a young Muslim man whose love for stand-up comedy leads to conflict when his father expects him to take over the family business.

There's always a hint of seriousness in a joke and as John Cleese once noted - "comedy is very much like tragedy". Material is a comedy drama, what's come to be known as a "dramedy", creating an uneasy balance between domestic strife and life's funnier moments - giving it a sense of reality.

The film-makers use the full range of comedy and drama to create tension as son comes to blows with father, only to alleviate this with bursts of stand-up and light-hearted comedy. While the story has been hatched by many, final writing credits go to Craig Freimond, who wouldn't have been able to draft it without the personal experiences and guidance of Riaad Moosa, who was confronted with a similar situation in his family.

Riaad Moosa makes acting look easy in his feature film debut. A doctor, comedian and now actor, the man seems able to tap into a limitless reserve of natural talent. Moosa oozes instant likability and charm. The man is so photogenic that it seems almost impossible for the camera to misrepresent him and he delivers effortless sincerity in his first starring role.

Vincent Ebrahim, best known for his role as Ashwin Kumar in The Kumars at No. 42, brings a wealth of experience to the ensemble. Born in South Africa now based in the UK, he's a force as Ebrahim Kaif, who could have been the lead of a separate character portrait drama altogether. Preconceptions of the Kumars fade away as he embodies his character with such stern, angst-filled turmoil, tempering the frustration of a father losing control of his family.

Denise Newman brings grace and serenity to Fatima, dousing the household tension with a sense of reason. Carishma Basday's elegance and beauty make Zulfa a worthy comic distraction and romantic interest for Cassim. The Kaif family just look and feel like family - testament to the great on-screen chemistry and casting.

Joey Rasdien, plays his best friend, Yusuf, like the love-child of Seinfeld's Kramer and George, mixing eccentricity and comedic flair into this buddy character. Krijay Govender delivers something of a tribute to Ummi striking the same fun tone as The Kumars at No. 42. While Nik Rabinowitz plays a derivative of himself as comedy mentor, Dave Gold.

Writer-director Craig Freimond has a good grasp of comedy, having been at the helm of several progressive comedy productions, Jozi, Sorted and Gums and Noses. His experience with improv and comedy has given him the wisdom to reach for natural rather than forced comic and dramatic moments, giving the story a sense of authenticity.

Material is not a Bollywood movie, but an Indian story with universal themes similar to movies like Bend It Like Beckham. A struggle with duty, responsibility and loyalty to family and tradition, it manages to stir up deep emotion - ranging from heartwarming moments to utter joy.

Those expecting a straight comedy will not be disappointed, but pleasantly surprised by the film's emotional resonance, which is evoked by an honest script, two fantastic co-leads and a strong team effort. It's the sort of crowd-pleasing film that will make you laugh, cry and think - without hitting you over the head.

A low budget film by international standards, Material is a hidden gem, managing to tell a beautiful, deeply human story with such seemingly simple complexities. At its essence is a sense of truth that most films aspire to and South Africa would be proud to have Material as an international ambassador at any film festival.

Material is an audience award-winning kind of film. The only serious criticism would be that the story transforms from Cassim's to Ebrahim's journey in the final quarter, picking up a subplot and finishing with a series of emotive montages. The switch isn't jarring, but does feel a little disconcerting after having journeyed with Cassim for so long.

The film-makers cut it down to 90 minutes to keep it short, sharp and punchy - yet there's a desire to peel away more as Cassim and Ebrahim's paths cross with such great chemistry and deep-seated history. Letting comedy win at the end of the day, keeps Material upbeat, a wise move in terms of box office numbers. However, that big red bow is a distraction from a much deeper story at the heart of this quality production.

The bottom line: Heartwarming

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