When I stumbled across South African writer Damon Galgut, I was well impressed. I’d just been to South Africa and as is my wont, had visited a local bookshop to sample some national authors. This is something I’ve been doing for years and it’s paid off in spades. If you’ve not read Galgut, put him on your list. My personal favourite is The Beautiful Screaming of Pigs.
Battened down by the Kis-Balaton on Day 2 of 2017, after a lovely afternoon in the outdoor hot springs at the fab Kehida spa, we’d eaten well. It was movie time and my first time to see the 1980 South African movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy. Others in the room had seen it multiple times. They promised me slapstick comedy but the opening, documentary-style gambit threw me. Wait, they said. Just wait. Be patient. A couple of hours later, I’d made up my mind: If the world was ending and I had a choice of just one movie to watch for eternity, this would be it.
Curious to know more, I did a little digging. Back in 1980, writer/director Jamie Uys (I wonder if any relation to my old mate, L?) raised enough money to make this low-budget movie, one which would turn out to be the most commercially successful in the country’s film history, grossing $100 million worldwide. The fab Nǃxau, who plays the Kalahari bushman, is said to have been paid anywhere from $300 to $2000 for his role, depending on what you read. The gods must indeed be crazy. Apparently, it broke all sorts of records in Japan when the original Afrikaans version dubbed in to English was shown, and it was this best-selling foreign film in the USA that year, too. Can’t think of where I was that I missed it…
The film, with its multiple story lines, is set in Botswana. Before he was cast in the role of Xi, Namibian farmer Nǃxau ǂToma had seen just three white men in his life. He would go on to make six more movies before returning to farm in Namibia, dying of TB some time in his 50s. A bushman himself, he had little experience of the modern world, something the movie makes the most of.
Xi’s path crosses those of Andrew Steyn (working on a PhD that involves lots of stool sampling) and Kate Thompson (the newly arrived school teacher). Steyn is played by Marius Weyers, who might be better known for his role as Rudolf Van de Kaap in Blood Diamond. His bumbling ineptitude around women is so real it’s easy to forget he’s acting. It’s a laugh-out-loud gem of a movie with layers of depth to it. It can be as light or as a thought-provoking as you want it to be, depending on your mood. It has good guys, smarmy guys, and bad guys. It’s genuinely funny with no special effects, bells, or whistles. And in its simplicity lies its beauty.
Xi and his fellow Ju’/Hoansi bushmen are living it up in the Kalahari. The gods have given them everything they need. They have enough. All goes well until one day, a glass bottle falls from the sky. Innocent as they are, the bushmen assume the Coke bottle is a gift from the gods and put it to all sorts of uses. But there’s only one bottle and soon, it starts to cause problems. The tribe decides to rid themselves of this evil thing and Xi volunteers to throw it off the end of the Earth. The movie is his journey.