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State of Violence

Khalo Matabane’s first feature “Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon” premiered at the Festival in 2005, establishing an entirely new voice in African cinema: complex, questing, hybrid. Matabane’s long-awaited follow up shows him maturing as a filmmaker, even as he pushes into darker and more dangerous territory.

Bobedi (played by “Hotel Rwanda”’s Fana Mokoena), is a member of Johannesburg’s new black business elite. Returning home from celebrating a promotion with his wife, Joy (Lindi Matshikiza), he finds an intruder waiting for them in their home. The masked man seems to know Bobedi personally and shoots Joy in front of him. Bobedi is shattered, but not surprised. Before he took on the trappings of success, he had lived a violent life. When the police fail to pursue his wife’s murderer vigorously enough, Bobedi enlists his brother Boy-Boy (Presley Cheweneyagae, star of “Tsotsi”) to help him track down the killer.

As this emblem of the new South Africa tries to take justice into his own hands, he finds the effects of his own violent past returning to haunt him. His mother refuses to speak to him. Old friends are fearful and defensive. As the film progresses and Bobedi’s internal struggle deepens, the question soon shifts from the killer’s identity to the nature of Bobedi’s own soul.

True to his political roots, Matabane widens the film’s focus from the story of one man to an examination of the consequences of memory and denial, ever-vital issues within South Africa’s collective memory. State of Violence offers no easy answers. As Bobedi, Mokoena gives an engrossing performance, depicting how the scars of the past never truly disappear and the concept of justice is never as simple as it seems. [Synopsis courtesy of Cameron Bailey/Toronto International Film Festival]