Contemporary World Cinema

Vaya

Akin Omotoso

Vaya 01

Director Akin Omotoso weaves together three separate stories to create a gripping yet compassionate portrait of small-town characters immersed in the intimidating, alluring, and dangerous world of big-city Johannesburg and Soweto.

This electrifying drama from Nigerian director Akin Omotoso (whose Man on Ground screened at the 2011 Festival) is a masterful synthesis of big-city anxieties and aspirations.

Beginning on a train travelling from the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal to Johannesburg, Vaya focuses on three passengers and follows each of them into the city. They're strangers to one another, yet bound by interlocking destinies and a shared naïveté. Imagine a South African spin on Amores Perros and you're partway there.

Nkulu (Sibusiso Msimang) is charged with retrieving his father's remains from the capital and bringing them back home for burial. What he doesn't know is that a whole other set of relatives have their own plans. Zanele (Zimkhitha Nyoka) is chaperoning a young girl who's en route to reunite with her mother, a singer who manages a tavern. When Zanele meets the mother's charismatic boyfriend, he promises that he can get her on TV as a dancer, but there's more to this offer than meets the eye. Nhlanhla (Sihle Xaba), excited by the prospect of getting rich quick, is caught up in criminal activities — ranging from kidnapping to murder — the moment he gets off the train.

Shifting effortlessly between scenes of intimacy and of bracing violence, Vaya exudes compassion for each of these small-town characters but does not hold back from plunging them into the urban snakepit that awaits.

Many filmmakers have utilized the network narrative to relay broad social commentary; Omotoso, bolstered by brilliant performances and Kabelo Thathe's sizzling camerawork, wisely focuses on tension, character, and milieu, leaving the conclusions up to us.

CAMERON BAILEY

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