City of Ashes – Review by Seyi Lasisi

Paean to a pandemicThe year is 2035

In this Sheetal Magan directed short, the future is dystopian. Reflective of present reality, there is a prevalent health crisis, albeit one that has immense political and economic repercussions. Humanity has been divided into regimented social classes. Old habits die hard apparently. An epidemic is vigorously claiming the lives of citizens, mostly the working-class folks who belong to Ground Zero. It is into this tense world that Tshengezdo gives birth to a baby, Cashile. 

Cinema pays attention to reality. It is interesting to note that while the film presents itself to be futuristic, it remains in essence a flashback to the experiences of humanity during the lockdown days of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a point that the film often reinforces with its true-to-life portrayal of the painful reality during the pandemic. 

Curtailment of movement meant that compulsory family time became the reality of many. This bizarrely propelled domestic violence cases against women and children. This violence is well documented in various news stories and essays. While the disease claimed lives on the street, toxic partners did as much damage to their own spouses at home. The film doesn’t dwell on this though. It focuses its lens on other concerns. How did pregnant women fare during the pandemic? In a world where physical intimacy swiftly became a taboo, how did nursing mothers cope with the dread of having their infants contaminated with disease? 

Fragments from the pandemic era dent the film. An airborne sickness lingers, there are few people onscreen- think social distancing. Face masks often cover the actors’ faces and one can glean a sense of panic, not just in the heroine Tshengezdo’s movements, but in the filmmaker’s personal vision.

Durban International Film Festival

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This story emanates from the Talent Press, an initiative of Talents Durban in collaboration with the Durban FilmMart. The views of this article reflect the opinions of the film critic Seyi Lasisi .

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Submission received