Premiering at the Seattle International Film Festival
is Andrew Mudge’s South African drama The Forgotten Kingdom.
The impeccably photographed Kingdom begins with its protagonist Atang (played by Tsotsi’s Zenzo Ngkobe),
who’s walking the streets in Johannesburg, a vibrant scene which seems
to have been choreographed to the local hip-hop beats and sounds.
In an early sequence in which a convenience store owner tells Atang he looks nothing like his father, except for the “anger in his eyes,”
we sense that a resentful Atang has been fending for himself in the
South African town for some time without parental or familial guidance.
After a long-due visit to his estranged father’s dwelling, a neighbor
tells Atang that his father had been sick and passed. Atang is now in
charge of taking his father’s body to his native land of Lesotho to be
The drama begins to slowly unfold hereafter. Atang must
return to his native land to confront his past and deal with his issues
of abandonment, which stemmed from his mother dying when he was a young
boy and his now deceased father sending him to live with different
acquaintances. Atang looks and feels like an outsider in his native
Lesotho, although he soon reconnects with Dineo (played with aplomb by Nozipho Nkelemba),
an old childhood friend who lives with her father and HIV-positive
sister. Conflict arises when her father gives Atang an ultimatum to pay
the dowry and marry his daughter. Atang returns to Johannesburg, but
soon after he has a change of heart and decides to go back to Lesotho to
reunite with Dineo.
For the most part, the film plays like a
quite, meditative tale, marked by compelling performances. There is a
also a whimsical element permeating throughout the film. A key character
at the core of Kingdom is an orphan boy (Lebehang Ntsane) who knows Atang’s native land. The boy tells Atang he is “the eyes on the dark clouds following you around this country.”
The young boy seems possess an old soul; you wonder if he is in fact
real or a mystical character. There’s also supernatural elements
discussed throughout. The two embark on a journey to find Dineo, who has
moved to another town at the will of her father, who is ashamed of
Dineo’s sister’s HIV prognosis.
Atang and Dineo’s relationship
could have definitely been more developed
more; the film gears its focus to Atang’s journey with the orphan boy.
Towards the end, the film may become a bit predictable. Atang and
Dineo’s respective conflicts – Atang’s issues with abandonment and
Dineo’s issues with her controlling father seem to have a steely resolve
and closure. Don’t expect any explosive, shocking or brutal scenes; it
just isn’t that type a film. Overall, Kingdom is more of a perceptive
film, although some may find some aspects of the viewing tiresome.
However, Kingdom is a well crafted film. Mudge’s direction augers some fine acting from all main characters.
Zenzo Ngkobe pulls off a powerful performance. He is a fascinating
actor to watch. It will be interesting to see if he’s interested in
crossing over to American films, not that it would be necessary for him
do so in order to showcase his obvious acting chops. Newcomers Nkelemba,
who plays Dineo, and Ntsane, who plays the orphan boy, are both
quite a revelation. While the pace may drag at times, the film’s crisp
scenery and stunning photography will transport you to
its painterly landscapes. But most significantly, Kingdom’s heartfelt
performances and director Mudge’s competent direction will
keep you engaged through the duration.