The Tribe

A Seesaw Film: Do I Change, or do I self-destruct?

by Coen Jacobs

The reason why a seesaw is made for two people, is because when one person goes down, there is always someone on the other side to lift that person up again.

Charlie Vundla at the Premiere of The Tribe

Charlie Vundla

The Tribe, which is an all South African film, addresses the question of how one can try and put life back together, when everything suddenly crashes down. The Tribe is a movie exposing all characters on the edge of their oscillate seats, uncertain of what life is going to hand them next. The unpredictability and suspension which is evident from the start of the film, leaves one not knowing what is going to happen next or what to expect from the next movement on this seesaw.

The Tribe is written, produced and directed by Charlie Vundla, who also plays the lead role of this feature film. He is supported by Louis Roux and Terry Pheto, who were previously seen in the Oscar winning movie, Tsotsi. The Tribe sees the debut acting performance of both Vundla and Roux, which was a very interesting and bold choice, as their inexperience as actors, contributed to their characters’ personas of not knowing what to do next…

The first scenes portray the life of Smanga, played by Vundla, who is a young university professor. His life is thrown into chaos by the gravity of his troubled marriage. He is left with a choice of either change or self-destruct.

Early in the film, Smanga’s chosen path is illustrated by alcohol abuse, pornography, and depression. Vundla takes some time to introduce this emotional state of this character, as the foundation for the rest of the movie. “The emotional feeling of the cinematography has been modelled on the work of American Photographer Nan Goldin, who is known for her intensely personal, spontaneous, sexual, and transgressive photographs.” Vundla explained. Without the manipulation of music, visual effects or camera movements, the viewer has a raw meeting with the daily struggles of the character, which is intensified by the limited use of dialogue, scenes of silence as well as the character’s own behaviour.

Louis Roux at the Premiere of The Tribe

Louis Roux

Smanga’s path of self-destruction is interrupted when an old school mate, Jon, played by Roux, gets onto his seesaw. Jon attempts to lift his friend up by changing his goal towards saving his marriage, house and life. The change brought by Jon is beautifully portrayed in this movie by small elements such as making Smanga breakfast and fixing his pool. Not only is Smanga being saved, but he also plays a role in lifting Jon up after life left him in a mess. The two of them seesaw together in an attempt to change each other’s lives and they find interesting ways in which to accomplish this goal.

However, the story takes another turn when Smanga’s wife, Laura, played by Pheto, abruptly comes back into the picture. Not only is the physical space compromised, but also the lives of these three characters are thrown into turmoil. The seesaw ride spins out of control by unexpected events, which intensify the gravity of their lives.

This film is definitely for movie lovers with an acquired taste. The artistic and dramatic cinematography, as well as some of the explicit content, may upset some sensitive viewers.   Be this as it may, in context, the film is effectively produced, by co-producers Moroba Nkawe and Jeremy Nathan. Nicolaas Hofmeyr directed the photography, with Garreth Fradgely and Tebogo Tsokodubane, as Editor and Art Director respectively.

The Tribe addresses current issues such as the difficulties of marriage, but also leaves a flavour of heroes turning into enemies. It will leave the viewer with true and painful questions about life in the modern world.

Under its belt already, The Tribe has gained various international accolades, such as the Official Selection at the Chicago International Film Festival 2015, Atlanta Film Festival 2016, and the Pan African Film Festival the same year. Vundla won the award for Best Actor for his role in The Tribe at the Africa International Film Festival.

The Tribe was produced by House Rising Pictures and Siascope, in association with the Department of Trade and industry, and the Gauteng Film Commission. The film releases countrywide on Friday, 17 March 2017.


This review was edited by Bronwyn Kerry.  Photos by Louw Mulder

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