Zikhona Sodlaka as Zoleka in Ernest Nkosis Thina Sobabili.

THINA SOBABILI

DIRECTOR: Ernest Nkosi

CAST: Emmanuel Nkosinathi Gweva, Busisiwe Mtshali, Zikhona Sodlaka, Richard Lukunku and Mpho Popps Modikoane

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

CLASSIFICATION: 16 LSV

RATING: ****

A tale of two against the world. In the heart of Alexandra township, Thulas (Gweva) heads up a household that he and his teenage sister, Zanele (Mtshali) share. He’s the head of a trio who break into houses over the bridge in Sandton – although we never get to see them actually doing anything criminal.

Thulas is fiercely protective of Zanele and, the audience quickly learns through flash-backs, is haunted by a past that robbed them of the presence of their mother. Things between the siblings begin to spiral into deception and drama when Zanele decides to start seeing a much, much older man.

Said gentleman is so old that when Zanele and her BFF, Tumi (Ntokozo Hazel Mhlaba) meet him and another sugar daddy, the friend curiously asks: “What is a Sub A?”

Thina Sobabili is Nkosi’s debut feature film and an impressive first foot forward. It’s not just because the cinematography presents a brand of realism reminiscent of Tebogo Mahlatsi’s Yizo Yizo. It’s not just because it’s a beautiful story of how a brother will give up everything – even grudges that have so far protected them – in order to make sure his sister has a chance at a better life.

It’s because all of these characteristics come alive in a way that will hit home for most people who grew up in any township in South Africa. While it’s a universal narrative, the writing is splendidly South African in slang and conceptual relevance.

For instance, at one point, Modikoane’s character, Mandla – Thulas’ friend and one half of the film’s comic relief – announces that he’s going to buy airtime at the Pakistanis. At another point, someone tells Zanele he thinks he saw her name on a Coke can.

In those ways, Thina Sobabili speaks for and to the youth and most of this nation as opposed to speaking for them. Sodlaka and Lukunku, a couple who is linked to the siblings (no spoilers), share some of the most intense and traumatic scenes in the film. Their acting chops deserve all the props!

Thina Sobabili has a beautiful balance of sound and silence. Coupled with slow motion effects, silence speaks volumes in some of the pivotal scenes. Having recorded more than 40 tracks for the film score, Nkosi and music composer, Mpho Nthangeni, settled on two of Bongeziwe Mabandla wailing. These are expertly looped to drive home the most harrowing and heartbreaking scenes.

Thina Sobabili forces the audience to feel and not just watch what is meant to be a fictional story that is way too real. Nkosi’s aim was to make people look at the screen and see themselves so as to hold themselves accountable for the choices they make. Thina Sobabili achieves that.

If you liked Yizo Yizo and City Of God then you’ll like this.