“Yesterday” (wiki) is a wonderful 2004 South African film in Zulu. It is about a family stricken by AIDS. This picture is of “Yesterday” (the mother — who was named such because, “nothing will be better than yesterday”) and her daughter “Beauty”.
Zulu: Wow, Zulu (wiki) is a gorgeous language — that was the first time I have listened to it. I could have loved the movie just for that experience. Read about Zulu as African Languages here. Here is a sample Zulu word for you: Yaboo (thank you).
Slow Film: “Yesterday” is a simple, slow film — I love simple, slow films. And each time I watch slow movies, I am reminded how modern movies train the eye and the mind for fast, furious and vacuous. It is simple because there are no real twists in the plot or unexpected ideas. It is about a family infected by HIV and their social problems. In this way, as my children watched, it was assisted me in talking to my children about AIDs, poverty and racism.
Religion: Religion only minimally enters the film but is interesting. Christianity is on the side of modernity and pre-modern medicine is mocked. When Yesterday has a chronic cough, villagers scold her for not seeing the local witch doctor, a “Sangoma“. It is obvious that Yesterday realizes the scam of the witchdoctor but she goes anyway and the shaman’s superstitious nonsense is made obvious. I use to be a sort of shaman when I did acupuncture, I know it when I see it. I have good intention of writing on this in the future.
Divination: Part of the Sangoma’s nonsense is divination. Divination is used by billions of people. The Sangoma’s particular method is to have the sick patient blow into a sack of bones and then she scatters the bones on the ground. Being a witchdoctor and able to see deeply into spiritual/psychological issues, the Sangoma can read the bones and discover the ‘real’ cause of the illness. In this case, Yesterday’s chronic illness is diagnosed as “anger” — so the Sangoma tells Yesterday that she should let go of her anger to be cured. Yet the film clearly makes Yesterday into a sweet, patient, loving woman without a touch of anger at that time. Yesterday declares over and over, “but I am not angry”. But thankfully, Yesterday develops righteous anger at the end of the film — though perhaps a little late.
I have written here how “throwing the Chinese I-Ching coins” is a bit more elaborate version of this Bone Divination (cleromany). My other experience with such simple divination is Jiaobei, also used in China — I will write more later.
Christian Service: After the disappointing show by the Sangoma, a new teacher in the village meets Yesterday. She does not speak one word about religion but clearly wears a cross necklace. She is a wonderful woman from beginning to end — it is very touching. She is a savior figure in this film — again, I loved the film for that. She give true attention, acceptance, service and love to “Yesterday” without a mention of a religious agenda.
Sadness and Redemption: The movie is sad. I was angry at “Yesterday” when, in the beginning of the film, she squashed her daughter’s imagination of being a bird saying, “but you aren’t a bird”. Yesterday’s patience with her lot in life seemed too passive and pathetically trapped. Though death fills this film, yet we see the power of forgiveness and redemption also at work. Yesterday forgives her husband who beat her horribly in one scene and she cares for her daughter before taking the long walk. But it is too late for Yesterday, and that is an important message in this film.