“My mission is really to capture what it means to be African,” says a secondary character, a fledgling filmmaker, early in Ayanda. “I feel like we’ve been completely misrepresented. It’s not all civil wars.”
Anchoring the film’s faux-documentary subplot, that character is clearly the surrogate for screenwriter Trish Malone and director Sara Blecher, spelling out their own goal for Ayanda. Meanwhile, the titular personage is a 21-year-old artist who restores old furniture into hip art pieces she has difficulty letting her gallerist actually sell.
Ayanda (Fulu Moguvhani) is a free spirit (her fashion sense is very Lisa Bonet–as–Denise Huxtable) who crashes to earth when she learns her mother is planning to sell the garage founded by Ayanda’s late father. Enlisting the garage’s two mechanics to help her (one of whom will, of course, become a romantic interest), Ayanda decides to apply her restoration skills to old cars, tweaking the garage’s longtime function in order to save it.
Blecher brings a breezily energetic pace and visual style to the tale, employing animation, photo montages, and that ersatz-doc film-within-the-film, which allows characters to address the camera directly and speak to the multiplicity of cultures, aesthetics, and identities that make up the film’s Yeoville (a township of Johannesburg) setting. The film has the urgency and magnetism of an assured youth-culture manifesto, only stumbling a bit when the balance between dramatic and comic elements leans too heavily toward the former. The ensemble cast is note-perfect, but they all fade to the background when the beautiful, vivacious Moguvhani is onscreen. She all but eats the camera.
Directed by Sara Blecher
Opens November 13, AMC Loews 34th Street