Barakat is a “warm and fuzzy” local comedy drama from writer-director Amy Jephta, whose writing credits include Ellen: Die storie van Ellen Pakkies, Trackers and Skemerdans. Jephta is a rising star and her film has been selected as South Africa’s official Best International Feature Film submission for the Academy Awards in 2022. Her enticing gangland short film, Soldaat, gave us a taste of her immense capabilities as a storyteller. Now getting to direct her screenplay again with Barakat, we get insights into where her passion lies. Centred on four brothers who are coming to terms with their mother’s big announcement over Eid-al-Fitr, we embark upon a humourous slice-of-life journey. Taking place in the suburb of Rylands, Cape Town and in the key of the language known as Afrikaaps, the comedy drama is a family portrait that resonates through its rich mix of authenticity and nostalgia.
Immersing viewers in this homely place, Jephta swathes us in the Davids household in the aftermath of an influential patriarch. Now with Aisha getting by on her own, the dramatic tension builds as the promise of new romance is extinguished by her over-protective and suspicious sons as they deal with their own dysfunctional relationships. Barakat means ‘blessings’ and the irony isn’t lost in this amusing film about characters who think they’ve got a raw deal. It’s a gentle and warm drama, touching on universal family matters and adding texture and nuance through Cape culture and the Islamic faith.
Carrying through this sense of authenticity and grounding is a solid local ensemble of actors. Vinette Ebrahim gets the show rolling as a caring matriarch, Aisha, serving as an umbrella to the story, which comes to revolve around fraternal squabbles. Joey Rasdien, Mortimer Williams, Keeno Lee Hector and Danny Ross give the four brothers a rich history, each character fully-fledged enough to standalone, yet stronger as a team. While not nearly as boisterous or silly, their fun and overfamiliar dynamic recalls the breezy chemistry of Samoan Wedding. It’s great to see Rasdien stretching his acting abilities with a substantial role reprisal in New Material, whilst offering a more dramatic performance with a tinge of comedy in Barakat. While not quite as prominent as the four brothers, the supporting cast is bolstered by the considerable talents of Quanita Adams, Bonnie Mbuli and June van Merch, whose presence is felt.
“I can discipline my own husband thank you very much!”
Starting with a sweeping, touching and beautifully crafted “the story so far…”, Jephta essentially offers a short film within a film to set the platform and offer a condensed version of the situation. Using props and set design that makes everything feel like it’s from another time yet equally lived in, Barakat’s nostalgia is palpable. While this artful and thoughtful opening sequence is exquisitely mounted and composed as if inspired by Up, it creates a tonal blueprint, which is never matched or repeated. Tonal consistency is one of Barakat’s biggest challenges, loosely swaying from comedy to drama when it seems as though dramedy was the driving vision. The oversteps aren’t enough to derail the story but are noticeable enough to disrupt a typically seamless flow.
Barakat’s dysfunctional family is strong enough to have been the core to a sitcom, TV series or film. You can sense each character has been carefully sculpted and given their due respect, something that’s understood and appreciated by the actors who follow through with earnest performances. The cast’s collective energy is strong, working well as a team and remaining charming enough to entertain. Barakat is a nimble comedy drama, keeping the pensive dramatic story upbeat, never overstaying its welcome and moving at a good pace. Peppering the film with moments of comic relief, Barakat’s drama is relatable and its comedy is entertaining enough to resonate for locals with enough cultural detail to fascinate outsiders.
While the spread of characters and comedic undertone means that Barakat tends to operate on a lighter level, subverting the drama somewhat, one can always sense the underlying passion. This is expressed through attention to detail in the look-and-feel of the film and this love is further embroidered by the sentiment of a game cast. Barakat is a love letter to Afrikaaps, shedding light on people and stories that deserve more attention. While its tonal inconsistency makes for a sometimes bumpy ride as it veers between comedy and drama, Barakat’s empathy and love for its flawed characters and familial predicament help re-align its story. A warm and nostalgic treat, it’s message of togetherness in difficult times is one that everyone can appreciate.
The bottom line: Nostalgic