Sunday, 15 October 2017

Critic’s-Eye View: “The Whale Caller”

Zola Maseko’s new film The Whale Caller opened this weekend in theatres, after playing at the Durban Film Festival in July, and the Joburg Film Festival last year, where it won the award for Best African Film. It stars Sello Maake Ka-Ncube as the sexually dysfunctional whale crier and Amrain Ismail-Essop as the woman keen for his affection, in a domestic melodrama adapted by Maseko from the novel by Zakes Mda. I’ve collected other critics and reviewers’ pieces on the film here, for you to gain a broader view of the responses the film has elicited. Let me know of any others that could be included.

Click here to read The Back Row’s review of The Whale Caller.

In his review for the City Press for the screenings at Durban in July, Charl Blignaut describes the film as “a grand, silly, audacious and metaphysical tale of love, loss and jealousy,” and declares that “The Whale Caller should be one of the great South African films, but it isn’t, not by a fairly long shot.” In diagnosing its flaws, he writes,

“In my opinion, it was the casting. There was lots of big old stage acting but very little onscreen chemistry between Sello Maake Ka-Ncube’s Whale Caller and Amrain Ismail-Essop’s Saluni. And it tore a hole in the fabric of an often exquisite piece of knocky, romantic magic realism bursting with blooms of African surrealism. …
In its art direction, its visual choices, and its score by Pops Mohamed, The Whale Caller matches the lyricism of Mda’s novel. … The Whale Caller also reinvigorates the tired landscape tropes in African cinema to display a nature that is alive and seething with messages from the other side.”

In his review for, Peter Feldman describes the film as “atmospheric,” and says that “not much happens in [it].”

“Zola Maseko captures the atmosphere of [Hermanus] with striking shots of the famous southern right whales for which the area is known. … The execution of the whale caller’s journey to reconnect with humanity, and the love triangle between him, Saluni and Sharisha (a southern right whale) are sluggishly realised and a huge dollop of patience is required to sit it all out. Sello Maake Ka-Ncube and Amrain Ismail-Essop both impress”.

Gabi Zietsman reviewed the film for Channel24, awarding it two stars out of five, and affirmed that “the film had grand aspirations, but forgot to tether itself to the ground.” She asserts that,

“although [the characters] were appealing in the beginning, the longer you lounged in their world the more tired you got with their insanity. …
If you’ve heard of the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ trope in cinema, then be prepared for an overdose of mania. Saluni is the type to sing by herself in the forest walking underneath a colourful umbrella, and then randomly decide to almost-kidnap a pair of twin girls because they sing like angels. The overdose of drama works for a while and you genuinely feel sadness for the ‘love child’ and her delusions of fame, but after a while it feels more like the film is delusional rather than the character itself. …
If you have a strong tolerance for the obscure and weird, then perhaps The Whale Caller will appeal to your tastes, but it will struggle to find an audience outside of the cinephile circles.”

Comment with your own response to the film, or let me know about others you’ve seen that should be included.

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