2004 - South Africa - 96 minutes
Writer and Director - Darrell Roodt
My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars
The basic story of this movie is simple: an illiterate mother, a Zulu woman named Yesterday, finds that she has a fatal illness. Being aware of the great value of education, she fights a battle to live until her daughter has entered school. Watching the mother - an extraordinary example of strength and grace - confront poverty, despair, prejudice, and a forbidding environment makes this film intriguing and worthwhile.
At the start of the film, we see Yesterday and her daughter walking along a desolate road and come to find they have been walking for two hours to reach a clinic. They wait in line for most of the day only to be turned away and told to return the next week when, again, they are turned away. In the interim we are able to view the hard life lived by Yesterday and her fellow villagers. There is back-breaking work - just getting water is a daily chore - but the women of the village persist in a quiet, good-humored way. There are no men to be seen in the village even though they are most certainly there. This story is about the women of the village and their world which, in this African setting, is separate from the world of men.
When Yesterday finally sees the doctor at the clinic, she is told of her illness and advised to inform her husband who works in a mine in the city. Learning that she has AIDS leads to a series of events that exemplify the strength of this woman.
The language of this film is Zulu, with its beautiful, musical quality, but the dialogue is as sparse as the landscape. Emotions are expressed not in words but in actions and facial expressions. Leleti Khumalo, who plays Yesterday, gives a powerful performance that enables the viewer to feel the strength and willpower of the character. The only problem with Ms. Khumalo is that she is probably too beautiful and unscarred to depict accurately a woman who has led such a hard life. There were a number of close-ups of her hands which are soft with carefully manicured nails - not the hands of the woman we view laboring in her role of mother and wife.
We know from the beginning there will be no happy ending, for this film shows life as it is - not as we would like for it to be. Nonetheless, Yesterday is a quiet, slow-moving treat to the eyes and an inspiring message of love and sacrifice.
January 23, 2006