Movie Review: “Otelo Burning”

Published by Clay Cane on Friday, September 21, 2012 at 8:00 am.

(Photo: Cinga Productions)

Summary: South African teenagers in the late ’80s — a turbulent time for the region — have surfboard dreams. In their love for the tide, they hope to escape a poverty stricken neighborhood, which is being torn apart by rebels.

Review: Otelo Burning made its rounds at international film festivals over the year with the South African flick being coined as “City of God meets Blue Crush” — Otelo Burning does not scratch the cinematic brilliance of 2002’s City of God, but it’s leagues ahead of the lackluster Blue Crush. With South African films booming with critical acclaim, Otelo Burning proves again that big budgets don’t always make stellar movies.

One might think surfboards and 1989 apartheid South Africa is not a good mix, but with sharp cinematography, likable characters, a powerful cast and a solid script, Otelo Burning lights the big screen on fire. Most of the praise goes to the dynamic cast (Jafta Mamabolo, Thomas Gumede, Sihle Xaba) for their organic, steely and memorable performances. They play three young men in Lamontville, South Africa, who learn to surf. Swimming is forbidden in their culture, but once they discover water is not evil, they find freedom in the waves. But the freedom comes with a price.

The actors were gathered from acting workshops by the Ford Foundation held right in Lamontville, South Africa. This is the cast’s first feature film; Lamontville is their roots, giving the flick a stamp of authenticity. Their acting chops knocked out many of the overpaid actors in Hollywood, which can be credited to the vision of the director, Sara Blecher, a white South African who clearly saw beyond color and region, focusing on the soul of a good story.

The end delivers an interesting twist, which nearly morphs the story into a soap opera, but the dynamic performances redeem the clichés. At its heart, Otelo Burning is a memorable story about kids who hold bigger dreams than what they are told and taught they could accomplish.

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