Sunday, June 15, 2014


Pumzi; science-fiction drama/ short, Kenya/ South Africa, 2009; D: Wanuri Kahiu, S: Kudzani Moswela, Chantelle Burger

Some time after World War III, labelled the "water war", radioactivity has made the Earth's surface an uninhabitable desert. The remains of human civilization live in an underground base, where they are safe from radiation, and all the water is recycled. Asha works in a museum but starts doubting the authority of the council when they won't allow her to go outside and try to plant a seed that is sprouting. She secretly breaks out and starts a long, suicidal journey across the desert to find a place to plant the tree. She plants it and spends the last drops of water on it. It eventually grows out into a tree.

This 20 minute short and a rare example of science-fiction cinema from Africa, "Pumzi" is a bitter warning of where the global ecological pollution might lead us. Set in a dystopic future, it echoes Lucas' "THX 1138" and Stanton's (slightly more simplistic) "Wall-e": all the characters live in an underground base because the surface is uninhabitable and are shaved bald, though that actually has a point since everything in that society is adapted to recycle the extremely scarce water, from collecting urine to sweat, and hair would only collect sweat drops unnecessarily. The cinematography is sharp, the costumes and details are spot on (everyone in the basement has to create electricity manually, using special bicycle generators) whereas it is also refreshing that the lead protagonist is a woman. However, the story is a little bit too grey for a broader spectrum of a viewing experience. It rightfully took a dark and depressive approach, yet it stranded itself slightly by advocating its environmentalism too explicitly instead of more subtly, thereby succumbing a dimension of its enjoyment to it. Likewise, some parts suffer because the story was not developed enough (for instance, why is the council forbidding Asha from leaving the base?). The strongest part of the film is the haunting final image, which rightfully left a great deal of the audience wondering if there might be more interpretations to its conclusion (is the Earth's surface truly uninhabitable to life or is the council just keeping its inhabitants in an isolation?).


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