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'Blood Diamond' Shines
A film about South Africa reviewed by a South African
Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)     Print Article 
  Published 2007-01-23 08:15 (KST)   
There were chortles of delight from the audience (on a Sunday afternoon in central South Africa) when the silver screen, usually dedicated to New York cityscapes and car chases featuring American heroes, filled up instead with Cape Town's Victoria and Alfred waterfront (Table Mountain swooping up behind Jennifer Connnelly), or with a Cape winefarm. Okay the armed guards lining the estate's driveway irked a little, but Arnold Vosloo (as colonel Coetzer) barking a few incidental commands in Afrikaans made people like me who knew what he was saying chuckle. Leonardo di Caprio did his best to sound Southern African, but the award goes to director Edward Zwick, who captured the darkness and violence of Africa, and I think, some of the heart of its darkness.

The flick opens, appropriately enough with a flame being scratched into existence, bringing light onto the screen, and light into the darkness of our ignorance of Africa. Zwick immediately sketches the carnage at work in Africa in general, and Sierra Leone in particular. The cinematography of these gritty, action scenes smells of smoke and blood but Zwick places the audience into the centre of the shuddering action.

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The casting for this flick is good, with DiCaprio certainly appearing the part of the hard as nails, jungle-smart diamond smuggler Danny Archer, and Senegalese Djimon Hounsou (The Island) on the run as Solomon Vandy, in search of his family. Dark haired Jennifer Connelly (who you might remember from "A Beautiful Mind") brings sensitivity to the story, without making it too sentimental, as a conscientious reporter.

I read a review that criticized the film for trying to tell too many stories -- and it does address the problem of refugees, child soldiers, world intransigence (to Africas) and the politics that perpetuate war in Africa -- but I felt that Zwick told a brilliant, moving and meaningful story. I particularly enjoyed the last third of this hardcore flick, where Danny, with Solomon at his side, hikes through the African landscape, and his inner journey goes into high gear. This is not a silly popcorn movie like so many that are out there.

The visceral action scenes are just one of the reasons why this flick appears as authentic as it does. The number of South African actors (such as Danny's companion in the bus among many others) add to the powerful realism of the flick, along with the showcasing of Africa's forte, it's superb natural beauty, and it's tragic soldiers, sewers and slums. It is high time that Hollywood moves beyond sets and studios, and into the great sights and scenes of the world, particularly beyond the big cities, and particularly into unthought-of Africa.

Directors like Zwick and writers like John Grisham are amongst the first to move confidently and idiosyncratically away from communicating purely for entertainment, towards a process of educating through entertainment, informing through a more realistic invention of the genre. Given the greater worldly conundrums like Climate Change (championed by Al Gore and others), it's high time we become more discerning and more serious about our entertainment.

The most memorable image in this three hour flick is a bloody white hand, collapsing into the African Earth. There is something about that image that is Danny's mantra: TIA: This Is Africa. Meanwhile, just north of my country, in Botswana, the local Bushmen are fighting against the government to stay on their familial lands. Why? Because the desert, their desert, is filled with diamonds. Blood Diamond is a relevant film, and hopefully, the first of many for Africa.

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DiCaprio, Kidman, Robbins and others have all made attempts at the South African accent

Kidman tried in "The Interpreter," Robbins makes a stab in "Catch a Fire," but DiCaprio comes closest at nailing down the slippery South African accent in "Blood Diamond." Many others have tried, and what usually happens is the pretender either errs on the side of an overly Aussie accent, or on an overly prissy English accent. The South African accent is a chameleon at the best of times, but to understand how it works you have to understand South Africans. Despite the hype, we셱e actually laid back and relaxed, and our speech patterns reflect that unhassled position.

When we South Africans speak, we take the path of least resistance to say what we mean to say. And because we have a few other cultures around us, we sometimes enlist words or phrases from these other languages to drive the point home. So here셲 a quick language lesson:

Howzit -- colloquial greeting -- (means 쁥ow are you but you셱e supposed to answer 쁥owzit in response)
Bru -- friend, brother

Example: Howzit bru?

Ag -- push your tongue against the back of your throat, now blow bubbles. Gggg. That셲 the sound you want after the "A." You use "Ag" in combination, for example: Ag no (irritation, directed at nothing in particular). Ag man (irritation usually directed at someone in particular). Ag shame (sympathy about something). These epithets are used to convey that extra emphasis you want.
Wanker -- idiot (literally: someone who masturbates a lot)

Example: Ag man. You셱e a wanker.

Lank -- very
Hectic -- busy

Example: Man, I셶e been lank busy these last few weeks.

Ja (pronounced Yah). Yes.
Pal -- a word we use instead of buddy, and often to indicate irritation with someone
Lekker (pronounced lekka -- an oft quoted Afrikaans word that means 쁤ood, especially to describe girls, food or an experience)
Kak (pronounced khak -- the opposite of lekker, although someone might say sarcastically: lekker kak.

Example: Ja pal, I had a lekker kak holiday thanks to you.


So why is it that the American accent (including variations, like the southern accent) was a snip for Charlize Theron, but America셲 best actors continue to struggle? Well, the shortlist of words above should provide a clue. Some of them are quintessentially South African in terms of our phraseology, but still English. South Africa gets most of its lexicon from the British, including the pronunciation for most of what we say.
For example: dance -- we say dhonce (Americans say dhance). The South African vowel is much flatter.

We don셳 enunciate our r셲. It셲 there, but it셲 very soft. Americans struggle with this the most, because once you셱e enunciating your r셲, they셱e hard to drop.
In general, the South African English accent tends to be unostentatious, and we find other accents pretentious by comparison, with the American and Aussie accents seeming to us the most puffed up.

Why the accent is so tricky is because the English South African accent is often applied to Afrikaans South Africans speaking English. South Africa had two official languages for several decades, and half of all language speakers were Afrikaners (a language that comes from Dutch and has elements of other languages as well, but is essentially a new language, and an essentially new colonial language.) So an Afrikaner who speaks with a stunted accent, is really speaking English with an Afrikaans accent. It셲 a South African accent, in a way, but it셲 not the average accent, and certainly not commonly the way first language speakers speak it. My girlfriend is Afrikaans and she almost never speaks English, although she understands it perfectly, because her English sounds very flat.

I took your sister into town yesterday. -- is how I would say the sentence.
An Afrikaner will change the enunciation quite a lot. It might sound like this ? I tuk your sistah into toen yestahday.
One more comparison: She is going to the rugby match later today. She are going to da rugby match later today.

For language coaches saddled with the task of trying to turn American accents into South African accents, they first have to coach their students in a pure British accent, then flatten and loosen and relax the language a little. As for the Afrikaans English accent, don셳 even try!
/ Podcast by Nicolas van der Leek

- Close But No Cigar by Nicolas van der Leek 

Which film do you think should win the Oscar for Best Picture?  (2007-01-24 ~ 2007-02-14)
Babel
The Departed
Letters From Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen
None of the above
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nicolas van der Leek

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