The film is edgy, with some of the scenes doing well to display Johannesburg’s gritty and harsher side.
Zanele (Zimkhitha Nyoka), one of the three travellers, is on a mission to get a girl reunited with her mother who is a singer and manager at a tavern in the township.
During their first few nights in the city, Zanele and her young charge find themselves in a precarious position they can do nothing about.
Nyoka gives a convincing performance throughout the film, striking a balance between being soft when necessary but brave and fearless when it matters.
Warren Masemola takes on the role of gangster Xolani, who cruelly puts his Jimmy-comes-to-Joburg cousin Nhlanhla (Sihle Xaba) through his paces as his new initiate in the gang.
Sihle Xaba and Warren Masemola. Picture:
Xaba is believable and his disbelief palatable as his fate unfolds before his eyes and he realises he is helpless to stop the downward spiral.
One of the more jarring scenes in the film is when Nhlanhla, the second traveller, finds himself holding a gun to gangster’s temple while being taught how to shoot because he will soon have to execute a hit.
Even though the gun is not loaded, his anxiety is evident; his body trembles while he’s being screamed at to shoot. We can see his internal struggle until he finally he pulls the trigger and snaps out of it.
Nkulu (Sibusiso Msimang), the third traveller, is on a mission to retrieve his father’s body and bring it home for burial.
His father was a miner and as he struggles to get the body, he stumbles upon his father’s other life that the family knew nothing about.
Nkulu is naive and caring, but Jozi seemingly forces him to snap out of that mode and start fighting. Msimang is endearing as Nkulu and knowing that he carries his family’s dignity makes it even harder to watch him stumble and struggle.
The film has a soundtrack that matches the intensity and the authenticity of the scenes perfectly.
There are also beautiful shots of Johannesburg: one overlooking a dumping site where people are picking recyclable materials. As the people go through this almost mundane act, the sun rises and birds fly off into the distance.
There are also beautiful aerial shots of the township, showing some of its messy spatial layout from above. A sight to behold.
Vaya is a masterpiece of South African film, and a conscious exploration of the issues facing the people living on the margins of Johannesburg.
It exposes the human trafficking, the abuse of young women, poverty and joblessness, alcohol abuse and the inability of many to live with dignity in the city because they simply cannot afford it.
Vaya has won numerous awards both locally and internationally and is a must-see.