Izulu Lami (My Secret Sky)
follows two orphaned children, Thembi, 10, and Khwezi, 8, as they leave their rural farm in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa and journey to the big city. Initially, their mother's death means that they are left in the care of their Aunt Jabu. AJ had not come to visit the mother in her illness and she has no interest in being caretaker for her niece and nephew so the kids are left to fend for themselves. Thembi recalls that her mother had made a particularly beautiful Zulu mat that gained the interest of a white priest from the city. So she gathers the mat and her brother and sets off for the city to find the holy man hoping that he'd buy the mat.
The journey begins with the kids trekking through the gorgeous fields of South Africa. Everything is green except for the big sky overhead which dwarfs the children. They eat dinner beneath a tree as a dimming sun sets behind them. Eventually the pair make their way to a main road which takes them to a train station. There they sneak aboard a train for the last part of their journey. Arriving in the big city, these country bumpkins are overcome with awe at the large buildings and the hustle and bustle of city life. After Khwezi follows a couple street urchins who have robbed a pair of street performers, he and Thembi become acquainted with Chili-Bite, the leader of a small gang of kids.
C-B and his gang are antagonistic towards the rural refugees but they become integrated nonetheless. Thembi proves strong and gains C-B's respect by not caving in to his tricks and overcoming great adversity such as being rented to a paedophile. Plus she simply is able to adapt and survive on the streets. All the while Thembi maintains her search for the priest and watches over her little brother.
Both Sobahle Mkhabase and Sibonelo Malinga who played Thembi and Khwezi, respectively, gave wonderful performances. Considering that the movie concerned itself with the plight of two orphans, I didn't find it to be sappy. I felt more invested in Thembi's quest to find the priest than I did feeling sorry for any of the children left to fend for themselves on the streets. The scenes in the country are suitably beautiful while those in the city give the necessary opposition with overcrowding and cramped quarters.
My only criticism is the ending. Thembi's determination and ingenuity are once more on display – and rightly so – but I thought that her craftiness here fell a bit on the side of a deus ex machine
, a bit contrived. Despite this, Izulu Lami
was a nice portrait of a girl on the cusp of womanhood who is forced by fate to take on adult responsibilities and proves to be up to the task. It is likely that many elements of the movie went over my head with my stunning ignorance of South Africa, its people, and its culture, but Thembi's story will resonate with everyone.