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‘Barakat’ Review: A Widow Chooses Her Own Happiness in a Sweetly Sentimental South African Comedy

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Barakat Oscar

South African cinema is still catching up to the diversity of the population it represents: a congregation of cultures, languages and religions that got ironed out in the popular imagination by the white supremacist politics of the apartheid era. The country’s significant Cape Muslim, or Cape Malay, population is one demographic that has traditionally received short shrift on screen, a context that makes Amy Jephta’s hearty, fractious family comedy “Barakat” more of a milestone than its relatively modest storytelling might suggest. Following four adult brothers upended by news of their widowed mother’s plans to remarry, the film may skirt cliché in its broad depiction of fragile masculinity versus women’s intuition, but ultimately thrives on its vivid social and linguistic particularities.

The first film by a woman of color ever to be selected as South Africa’s Oscar submission, “Barakat” (an Arabic word meaning “blessings,” though it also refers to a Cape Malay tradition of sharing food) has played a number of diasporic and African-specific international festivals, though it has primarily reached audiences at home and abroad through global streaming and in-flight programming. These ancillary channels hardly curb the impact of a film that is quietly televisual in aesthetic and narrative scope — if anything, it’s designed to be consumed in the same shared family spaces in which it’s predominantly set, shot with an affectionate eye for unglamorous domestic furnishings and surfaces.

Though it darts around between the very separate lives of her four sons in its early stages, “Barakat” ultimately centers itself in the small, well-kept Cape Flats home of Aisha Davids (Vinette Ebrahim), a proud, straight-backed widow who appears to have taken grief in her stride, but is unwilling to live the rest of her life alone. Disagreements over her late husband’s business affairs have seeded lingering discord between her sons, alluded to in an elegantly edited opening sequence that uses Aisha’s dining table as a shifting locus for celebrations, funeral wakes and attendant arguments alike.

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That doesn’t stop her insistently guilt-tripping them, however, into a family gathering for Eid al-Fitr, where she intends to surprise them with more than just a traditional fast-breaking feast of mince curry and yellow rice. The unexpected guest at the table is her new fiancé Albertus (Leslie Fong), a kindly doctor who happens not to be Muslim, and whose retiring presence the boys regard with a mutual hostility that initially overrides their own issues with each other.

Blustering Johannesburg-based businessman Zaid (Mortimer Williams) leads the charge, followed by propriety-minded married man Zunaid (Joey Rasdien) and cocky, shiftless playboy Nur (Danny Ross) — who may liberally sleep around himself, but whose social expectations turn austerely conservative when it comes to his mother. Only shambling academic Yaseen (Keeno Lee Hector), himself something of a family outlier, takes a more cautious stance, though he hardly rushes to poor Albertus’ defense either. Aisha finds more open sympathy from Zaid’s Black girlfriend Gwen (Bonnie Mbuli) and Zunaid’s pregnant, unhappy wife Ra-eesah (an excellent Quanita Adams), who’s harboring secret thoughts of divorce. Gender solidarity trumps cultural and personal differences in this extended family.

If the drama plays out in fairly expected ways, often drawing from a sitcom-like playbook of conflict and revolution, the pleasures of “Barakat” lie in its details, from its evocation of a swift community gossip mill beginning at the spice vendor to its tacit observation of the four brothers’ differing styles of dress when attending mosque — a spread of faith and agnosticism that goes undiscussed at this nominally religious family gathering. A well-regarded South African playwright, Jephta could stand to tease out the brothers’ individual personalities and problems at more leisure, but her zesty dialogue makes rich, witty use of the distinctive “Afrikaapse” dialect, with its fast, fluid overlapping of English and Afrikaans, emblematic of a popularly neglected culture that has grown up tall between others.

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‘The Power of the Dog’ Sweeps Alliance of Women Film Journalists Awards

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Tales From Awards Circuit Power of the Dog

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists has announced the 2021 AWFJ EDA winners for its 15th season. This year’s most-nominated film, “The Power of the Dog,” swept the awards with wins in 11 out of 25 categories including best film, best director for Jane Campion, supporting actress for Kirsten Dunst and adapted screenplay.

“Although our beloved film industry was plagued by the pandemic, 2021 turned out to be a rather magnificent year for movies — especially for films made by and about women,” said AWFJ president Jennifer Merin. “We at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists are delighted to note that last year’s crop of brilliant femme-helmed and femme-centric films are getting the awards recognition they deserve — as shown in our list of EDA Award winners, and in films and talent on our roster of nominees, as well as in awards presented by other film critics’ groups.”

Other winners included ties for documentary (“Flee” and “Summer of Soul”) and animated film (“Encanto” and “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”). Olivia Colman (“The Lost Daughter”) won best actress, the only acting award that didn’t go to “Power of the Dog.”

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See the full winners list below.

AWFJ Best Of Awards

(These awards are presented to women and/or men without gender consideration.)

Best Film

  • “Belfast”
  • “Licorice Pizza”
  • “The Lost Daughter”
  • “Passing”
  • “The Power of the Dog” (WINNER)

Best Director

  • Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza”
  • Kenneth Branagh, “Belfast”
  • Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog” (WINNER)
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Lost Daughter”
  • Rebecca Hall, “Passing”

Best Actress

  • Jessica Chastain, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”
  • Olivia Colman, “The Lost Daughter” (WINNER)
  • Lady Gaga, “House of Gucci”
  • Kristen Stewart, “Spencer”
  • Tessa Thompson, “Passing”

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Jessie Buckley, “The Lost Daughter”
  • Ann Dowd, “Mass”
  • Kirsten Dunst, “The Power of the Dog” (WINNER)
  • Aunjanue Ellis, “King Richard”
  • Ruth Negga, “Passing”

Best Actor

  • Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Power of the Dog” (WINNER)
  • Peter Dinklage, “Cyrano”
  • Andrew Garfield, “Tick, Tick… Boom!”
  • Will Smith, “King Richard”
  • Denzel Washington, “The Tragedy of Macbeth”

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Jamie Dornan, “Belfast”
  • Troy Kostur, “CODA”
  • Ciaran Hinds, “Belfast”
  • Jesse Plemons, “The Power of the Dog”
  • Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Power of the Dog” (WINNER)

Best Screenplay, Original

  • “Being the Ricardos” – Aaron Sorkin
  • “Belfast” – Kenneth Branagh (WINNER)
  • “Don’t Look Up” – Adam Mckay
  • “Licorice Pizza” – Paul Thomas Anderson
  • “Mass” – Fran Kranz

Best Screenplay, Adapted

  • “CODA” – Sian Heder
  • “Dune” – Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth
  • “The Lost Daughter” – Maggie Gyllenhaal
  • “Passing” – Rebecca Hall
  • “The Power of the Dog” – Jane Campion (WINNER)

Best Documentary

  • “Ascension”
  • “Flee” (WINNER)
  • “Julia”
  • “Summer of Soul” (WINNER)
  • “Val”

Best Animated Film

“Encanto” (WINNER)
“Flee”
“Luca”
“The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (WINNER)
“Raya and the Last Dragon”

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Best Ensemble Cast – Casting Director

“Belfast” – Lucy Bevan, Emily Brockmann
“The French Dispatch” – Douglas Aibel, Antoinette Boulat
“The Harder They Fall” – Victoria Thomas
“King Richard” – Rich Delia, Avy Kaufman
“The Power of the Dog” – Nikki Barrett, Tina Cleary, Carmen Cuba, Nina Gold (WINNER)

Best Cinematography

“Belfast” – Haris Zambarloukos
“Dune” – Greig Fraser
“Passing” – Eduard Grau
“The Power of the Dog” – Ari Wegner (WINNER)
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” – Bruno Delbonnel

Best Editing

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“Belfast” – Una Ni Dhonghalle
“Don’t Look Up” – Hank Corwin
“Dune” – Joe Walker
“The Power of the Dog” – Peter Sciberras (WINNER)
“West Side Story” – Sarah Broshar, Michael Kahn

Best Non-English Language Film

“Drive My Car” (WINNER)
“Flee”
“A Hero”
“I’m Your Man”
“Titane”

EDA Female Focus Awards

(These awards honor women only.)

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Best Woman Director

Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog” (WINNER)
Julia Ducournau, “Titane”
Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Lost Daughter”
Rebecca Hall, “Passing”
Sian Heder, “CODA”

Best Woman Screenwriter

Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog” (WINNER)
Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Lost Daughter”
Rebecca Hall, “Passing”
Sian Heder, “CODA”
Maria Schrader, “I’m Your Man”

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Best Animated Female

Mirabel, Stephanie Beatriz, “Encanto” (WINNER)
Katie, Abbi Jacobsen, “The Mitchells vs. The Machines”
Raya, Kelly Marie Tran, “Raya and the Last Dragon”
Giulia, Emma Berman, “Luca”
Sisu, Awkwafina, “Raya and the Last Dragon”

Best Woman’s Breakthrough Performance

Ariana DeBose, “West Side Story”
Alana Haim, “Licorice Pizza”
Emilia Jones, “CODA” (WINNER)
Renate Reinsve, “The Worst Person in the World”
Rachel Zegler, “West Side Story”

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Outstanding Achievement by a Woman in the Film Industry

Victoria Alonzo, for Her Achievements at Marvel Studios
Maya Cade, for Establishing The Black Film Archive (WINNER)
Anna Serner, for 20 Years of Female-Forward Work at the Swedish Film Institute

EDA Special Mention Awards

Grand Dame Award for Defying Ageism

Dame Judi Dench (WINNER)
Ms. Rita Moreno (WINNER)
Dame Diana Rigg

Most Egregious Lovers’ Age Difference Award

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“The Many Saints of Newark” –  Ray Liotta and Michela Derossi (38 Years)
“Red Rocket” – Simon Rex and Suzanna Son (21 Years)
“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” – Salma Hayek and Samuel L. Jackson (21 Years)
“Nightmare Alley” – David Strathairn and Toni Collette (22 Years)
“Licorice Pizza” Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman (10 Years)
“No Time to Die” – Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux (17 years) (WINNER)

She Deserves a New Agent Award

Amy Adams, “The Woman in the Window” and “Dear Evan Hansen”
Melissa Mccarthy, “The Starling” (WINNER)
Chloe Grace Moretz, “Tom and Jerry”

Most Daring Performance Award

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Sandra Bullock, “The Unforgivable”
Olivia Colman, “The Lost Daughter”
Ruth Negga, “Passing”
Renate Reinsve, “The Worst Person in Tte World”
Agathe Rouselle,  “Titane” (WINNER)

Time Waster Remake or Sequel Award

“The Boss Baby: The Family Business”
“Cruella”
“Ghostbusters: Afterlife”
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” (WINNER)
“Tom and Jerry”

AWFJ Hall Of Shame Award

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Gina Carano, Nicki Minaj and Letitia Wright for using celeb status for anti-vax propaganda
Producers, crew and cast of “Rust” for not following proper safety protocol and causing the tragic death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins (WINNER)
Warner Bros. for contributing to Mel Gibson’s resurgence by hiring him to direct “Lethal Weapon 5”

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Rory Kennedy Makes Persuasive ‘Case Against Boeing’ With Sundance Doc

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Downfall The Case Against Boeing 00 31 17 14

In “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing,” director Rory Kennedy investigates two Boeing 737 MAX crashes that occurred within five months of each other in 2018 and 2019 that killed a combined 346 people. Guided by aviation experts, news journalists, former Boeing employees, the U.S. Congress and the families of victims, Kennedy’s Netflix doc reveals a culture of reckless cost-cutting and corporate concealment driven by Wall Street greed. This is Kennedy’s sixth time attending Sundance with a film.

You teamed with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s production house Imagine Entertainment on this project. Did they bring this project to you or was this film your idea?

It was my idea. I had been following the story and was I interested in it for a whole range of reasons, so just before the pandemic I decided to make it.

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What interested you about the topic?

Well, we all fly, right? When we book our plane tickets, when we walk down the tarmac to get on the plane and when we are on that plane, we are trusting that these corporations, airlines, manufacturers, Congress and the regulatory agencies are looking out for us. This film really shows us that that doesn’t always happen and that we have to make those demands.

You used CGI to re-create the two Boeing flight crash sequences. Is this the first time you used CGI in a doc and if so, did it prove challenging?

Yes. This is the first film I’ve used it in. It was an interesting challenge ensuring that you’re getting everything right in terms of the angle of the plane and where the sun was [at the time of the crash]. I wanted it to feel realistic, but of course, make it clear to the audience if this isn’t real. That it’s being manufactured.

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In September Frontline released “Boeing’s Fatal Flaw,” a documentary about the same topic. Was that a setback in any way?

The subject is so important that it lends itself to different kinds of storytelling and ways to approach it. For me, it was important to tell the story through the perspective of the people who were really on the front lines. So we didn’t really focus on historians or even journalists who weren’t directly involved with the story. Having those firsthand accounts and using the firsthand source documents to tell the story, without a narrator, was the way that I felt the audience could best access it and be pulled into it.

The project was originally intended to be a series. What made you want to make it a one-off instead?

Honestly, I think it does lend itself to a series as well, because there’s so much history and depth to this story but ultimately, I felt that the best way to tell this story was through a 90-minute structure where you could really condense the timeline and pull people in and keep them with you.

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What are you hoping audiences take away after watching this film?

For me this film is about corporate malfeasance. It’s about focusing on finances over public safety. Frankly, it’s not just about Boeing. I think there needs to be an appropriate balance between corporate and financial interest and the public interest. We have lost that balance in many instances, and I think it’s imperative that we regain that.

 

 

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