Otelo Burning


An earnest, unthinking, life-is-beautiful global indie of the sort Miramax used to scarf up by the dozens every year, this South African ditty is even framed as a scrapbook, mushily remembering childhood traumas and exaltations. It’s 1988, just as the apartheid system begins its slow collapse, and two black Durban teens (Jafta Mamabolo and Thomas Gumede) escape their bleak slum existence by learning how to surf. That’s about it—the boys’ poverty-beset families, their nascent romances, even the street violence of raids performed by the rival populist Inkatha party are all sketchy background to the whoop-de-do of shooting the tubes. (There’s even a treacherous spot called Dead Man’s Point, ominously forecasting the third act, if not an appearance by Frankie Avalon.) Tiresomely simple, the film introduces a subplot involving betrayal and political informants in the eleventh hour, but by then you’re either smitten by these guileless Zulu lads experiencing “freedom” on the waves or you’ve checked out. Michael Atkinson