LOOK WEST OF the heart of the city of Johannesburg and you will find the suburb of Mayfair. Not like the status-driven Mayfair of London or the one in the game of Monopoly, Johannesburg’s Mayfair has historically been a place of complexity, blending rich and poor, community tradition and modern gang warfare. The eponymous film which releases in South Africa this week, under the direction of Sara Blecher, paints a textured, gritty portrait which is relentless and harsh in its depiction and not something you might find on Tripadvisor.
Zaid Randera (Ronak Patani) is a young man with fire in his belly but a serenity to his face which is endearing and angelic. He’s been working with refugees in central Africa and returns home to Johannesburg after an incident where he’s falsely accused of corruption. And in returning to the home of his parents (Rajesh Gopie and Ilse Klink), he confronts a veritable den of corruption with a capital ‘c’, papered over with Islamic ritual and precepts. This vein of evilness runs deeper than he knows, and brings out more horrible demons in himself and the people around him than he could have anticipated.
This violent tale of money laundering and not being able to trust anyone in times of lascivious wealth, social exile and unabated xenophobia is graphically told and runs with a fluency that will keep your heart rattling hard in your ribcage. With an astonishingly raw and fine portrayal of Randera’s mum, it is the cameo role of Klink, however, that steals the show in many respects. She’s tough, yet vulnerable, secure in her ignorance and wily in her knowledge that makes you feel you know her plight.
Not to forget Gopie’s portrayal of the dad, Aziz. A flawed man with an earnest sense of values, Aziz is given credible flesh and blood and stature. Gopie is a much younger actor than this role prescribes, but his strong and tight ability to climb into the soul of this character, belies his own age.
The chillingly fine Warren Masemola and Wayne van Rooyen are wonderfully cast as the unequivocal baddies in the work; they’re so mean, you don’t want to wrench your eyes from them. It is, however, the so-called good guys in leadership positions that will unnerve you more with their flexible grasp on the basic tenets of morality.
With breathtakingly fine photography and music which ferrets its way into the textured and complex heart of contemporary Muslim life in South Africa, the work’s flaw lies in the writing itself. The structure of the narrative disallows you, as the viewer, access to information, and in doing so, bruises your ability to allow Mayfair to get under your skin. The story unfolds as it must, touching on the urgent and desperate plight of Somalian refugees in the suburb as it skirts around personal safety, remote monies and vulnerability. In doing this, it shuts access to the back story of the characters and thus retains a superficiality that leaves you with the violent shards of this community in uproar, at arms’ length.
- Mayfair is directed by Sara Blecher and features a cast headed by Jack Devnarain, Rajesh Gopie, Ilse Klink, Kelly-Eve Koopman, Warren Masemola, Ronak Patani, Ameera Patel and Wayne van Rooyen. Written by Neil McCarthy and produced by Dayo Ogunyemi, it features creative input by Philip Miller (music), Miles Goodall (cinematography), Megan Gill (editing) and Renier van Niekerk (sound effects). Release date in South Africa: October 26 2018. It is currently being screened at Scotland’s AiM (Africa in Motion) festival, until November 4.