Running Time: 96 mins.
Rated: Rated R
Yesterday was produced by Home Box Office Films in association with South African companies including the Nelson Mandela Foundation. It was written and directed by Darrell James Roodt, the veteran South African director who made a number of films even under the apartheid rule but who emerged in the 1990s with such films on African themes as Serafina as well as a new version of Alan Paton's Cry the Beloved Country with James Earl Jones and Richard Harris. He had a brief stay in Hollywood making the minor crime comedy Fatherhood with Patrick Swayze.
This film is a focus on contemporary South Africa but with memories of theapartheid years. It is quite poignant in its presentation of a mother living in a Zulu village, walking all the way to the hospital with her daughter (whom she calls Beauty) trying to get a visit to the doctor but failing each week and having to return.
The surprise of the film - although it should not be a surprise - is that she is found to be HIV-positive. Her husband is away working in Johannesburg and, as with so many workers in South Africa, he has contracted the disease from a prostitute partner. He returns home to die, to the suspicion of the villagers except the kindhearted teacher who tries to explain the situation, especially to the women. His is cared for by his wife who even builds her own house for him, kind of his own private hospital where she moves him and where he dies.
Yesterday is an important film insofar as it openly acknowledges the reality of AIDS and its widespread effect in South Africa.
The film shows the continued difficulties for black Africans, even after the demise of apartheid. There are the harsh traditions in the towns, the lack of water and hygiene, the lack of medical opportunities - but it finishes with the hope of solid education for the next generation.
Roodt is not always a subtle film-maker, relying on more direct techniques, unfussed, even sentimental. He would not be considered in any ways a stylish director - but the impact of his films comes especially from his content and from the strong performances he gets from his cast, especially Leleti Khumalo as the heroine whose name is symbolically, Yesterday.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.