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'Yesterday' Movie Review: Memorable AIDS Drama in Zululand

Yesterday Movie South Africa AIDS drama'Yesterday' movie: South African AIDS drama with Leleti Khumalo and Lihle Mvelase.

'Yesterday' movie review: Fantastic central performance in South African AIDS drama

To date, nowhere has the AIDS pandemic been felt more strongly than in Sub-Saharan Africa, home to approximately 16 percent of the world's population and 70 percent of the planet's estimated 35 million AIDS cases. In the past thirty years, more than 20 million Sub-Saharan Africans have died from complications of the disease.[1] Even today, drug cocktails that are relatively accessible in other parts of the globe are still beyond the means of the vast majority of Africans. Writer-director Darrell Roodt's South African drama Yesterday is set in this catastrophic scenario.

The film depicts the effects of AIDS in the life of a young Zulu woman who contracts HIV from her husband. Although Roodt's narrative maintains its focus on the plight of one particular individual, the (for non-Zulus) quirkily named Yesterday represents millions of other women, men, and children who are now suffering or who have perished from the effects of HIV in that part of the world.

Plight of the poor

Yesterday (Leleti Khumalo), an illiterate woman living in a remote Zulu village, ekes out a living tilling the soil. So named because her father believed that things had been better in the past, Yesterday's day-to-day existence consists of a series of back-breaking chores, including walking to the nearest hospital, located several kilometers away, to find out why she has been feeling so tired lately.

When Yesterday discovers she has contracted HIV from her husband, John (Kenneth Kambule), a miner working in Johannesburg, she travels to the big city to tell him. At first, John violently refuses to accept the truth, but some time later he shows up at the Zulu village, considerably weakened.

It's up to Yesterday to care for John, for their young daughter, Beauty (Lihle Mvelase), and for herself. Her health may be failing, but she makes up her mind not to succumb to the disease until her daughter starts going to school to get the education she herself never had.

AIDS movie Yesterday with Zulu actress Leleti KhumaloAIDS movie 'Yesterday': Zulu-language drama with Leleti Khumalo, Lihle Mvelase, and Kenneth Kambule.

Transported to Zululand

Even if marred by a slow-moving second half and by sporadic incursions into melodrama, Yesterday has much to recommend it. For starters, director-screenwriter Darrell Roodt and cinematographer Michael Brierley make sure we are transported from our movie seats to Zululand, as Brierley's lenses beautifully capture the region's magnificent vistas. Surrounded by enormous expanses of dry grassland and hillsides, the area around Yesterday's small village is reminiscent in scope to the American West's panoramic views as portrayed in the films of John Ford.

Additionally, Roodt's delicate, compassionate touch helps to humanize the film's characters, among them the doctor who first diagnoses Yesterday's illness or a kind-hearted teacher at the Zulu village. (They are movingly played by Camilla Walker and Harriet Lehabe, respectively). Even Yesterday's husband, though initially seen as the villain of the piece, is transformed into a pitiful figure, a man unable to come to terms with his deteriorating health and physical weakness.

Leleti Khumalo: Much more than an AIDS victim

As for Yesterday, far from being a mere victim, she is a woman who draws strength from despair. As a result of Yesterday's refusal to feel sorry for herself, her suffering becomes all the more heartbreaking.

Such mixture of resilience and simplicity is brought to life by Yesterday's greatest asset: Leleti Khumalo, a sensitive, intuitive actress who had previously worked for Roodt in both Sarafina! (1992) and Cry, the Beloved Country (1995). Khumalo effortlessly carries Yesterday on her shoulders while delivering one of the best performances of 2004 – or of any other year.

HIV/AIDS prevalence in Sub-Saharan Africa

[1] According to UNICEF, there were an estimated 35 million people living with HIV around the world in 2013. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for “the vast majority of people living with AIDS, new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths.”

As per the World Bank, Sub-Saharan Africa is “home to 70% of all new HIV infections.”

Yesterday (2004).
Dir./Scr.: Darrell Roodt.
Cast: Leleti Khumalo. Lihle Mvelase. Kenneth Kambule. Harriet Lehabe. Camilla Walker.

'Yesterday': Oscar Movies

Yesterday was nominated for one Academy Award.

'AIDS movies' and the Academy Awards

Whether as a focal plot element or an ancillary one, HIV/AIDS has been a relatively rare topic when it comes to Academy Award-nominated narrative films. Besides Darrell Roodt's Yesterday, the most notable examples – shortlisted in any of the Oscars' categories – are:

  • Longtime Companion (1990).
    Dir.: Norman René.
    Scr.: Craig Lucas.
    Cast: Campbell Scott. Mary-Louise Parker. Patrick Cassidy. Dermot Mulroney. John Dossett. Mark Lamos. Michael Schoeffling. Brian Cousins. Dan Butler. Robert Joy. Tony Shalhoub. Stephen Caffrey.
  • Philadelphia (1993).
    Dir.: Jonathan Demme.
    Scr.: Ron Nyswaner.
    Cast: Tom Hanks. Denzel Washington. Antonio Banderas. Joanne Woodward. Jason Robards. Roberta Maxwell. Anna Deavere Smith. Chandra Wilson. Bradley Whitford. Mary Steenburgen. Charles Napier. Roger Corman.
  • All About My Mother / Todo sobre mi madre (1999).
    Dir. / Scr.: Pedro Almodóvar.
    Cast: Cecilia Roth. Marisa Paredes. Penélope Cruz. Antonia San Juan. Candela Peña. Rosa Maria Sardà. Fernando Fernán Gómez. Eloy Azorín. Carlos Lozano. Fernando Guillén.
  • Precious (2009).
    Dir.: Lee Daniels.
    Scr.: Geoffrey Fletcher.
    Cast: Gabourey Sidibe. Mo'Nique. Paula Patton. Mariah Carey. Lenny Kravitz. Sherri Shepherd. Stephanie Andujar.
  • Dallas Buyers Club (2013).
    Dir.: Jean-Marc Vallée.
    Scr.: Craig Borten. Melisa Wallack.
    Cast: Matthew McConaughey. Jared Leto. Jennifer Garner. Denis O'Hare. Dallas Roberts. Michael O'Neill. Steve Zahn. Griffin Dunne. Kevin Rankin.

 

Yesterday cast info via the IMDb.

Images of Lihle Mvelase, Kenneth Kambule, and Leleti Khumalo in Yesterday movie: HBO Films.


         
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9 Comments to 'Yesterday' Movie Review: Memorable AIDS Drama in Zululand

  1. Vina Hayden

    I am trying to contact Darryll's father Peter and his wife Astri. I lost touch with them a in 2010 after they moved back to Johannesburg.

    Thanks

  2. Cynthia Mwabi

    Hello I actually don't intend on commenting, I was simply searching for a way to get in contact with Darrell Roodt with regards to the book by Marguerite Poland entitled : Shades

    As most people may know Shades is one of her best books and I had to read it in grade 12 as a set book. It's a pity that a film hasn't been made of this book because I'm 100% sure that it would win an award.

    The book Shades is a historical novel about life in South Africa in the early 1900s . It doesn't only contain a love story about France Farborough , Victor Drake( who never truly loved France but saw her as his possession) and Walter Brownly ( Who loved France but was not physically compatible for her) but also speaks of the injustice of life in the mines of South Africa with men who were not allowed to go home when they should and as a result began practising sodomy with the younger mine workers against their will.
    It speaks of the story of Benedict Matiwane who was never truly accepting into the Farborough family even though he was constantly told that he was one of them. He found himself in the space between his own people the Xhosas and the Farborough family . It also speaks of Crispin the youngest member of the Farborough family who adored Victor and had a sense of childlike innocence, always seeing life in a positive sense until reality hit him and he couldn't bear to live any longer and therefore shot a hole into his chest.

    Please could somebody make a movie out of this book, I mean it's brilliant and I think Marguerite Poland is still alive so she would be able to assist in making the film a success .

    Cynthia Mwabi

  3. Danisa Muhlanga

    Hi can you please connect me with Leleti Khumalo. I need to ask a huge favour from her. please

  4. RUTH NOMBUSO ZUMA (ZANELE)

    Good Day

    I intend writing about the represantation of black women bodies in media using a gender focus. my special reference is on the film Yesterday as well as the Caster Semenya Case.

    Could you please provide me with information that could be of assistance in completing my work.
    Regards
    Zanele

  5. scott silverman

    i have been trying to find a cd of the soundtrack for “yesterday” without success. any suggestions?

  6. Andre

    I'm sorry, but we don't have filmmakers' contact information at the Alternative Film Guide.

    I'd suggest you contact the film's distributors.

  7. Patricia Ma Gesino

    Hi! I'm trying to reach Darrell Roodt in order to invite him to Venezuela, (December 12 to 18, 2008) on behalf of AFRICALA The First African Film Festival in Latin America. I would very much appreciate if you could send him this invitation.

  8. Andre

    Lucy,

    I'd suggest you contact Yesterday's South African producers.

    Sorry I can't be of further assistance.

  9. Lucy

    Hello,
    not so much a comment, its a query that Ihope you may help me with.Iam
    looking for a35mm print for the film yesterday! CAN YOU HELP?
    Tried everywhere but seems it was not distributed inthe uk, any idea is
    highly appreciated.It is for acharity screening on World AIDS DAY that i
    am trying to organise.
    thankyou, hope to hear from you.

    Regards
    Lucy