A group of four ethnically diverse 20-something year old friends on a camping trip, on a farm in the Northen Cape, South Africa, have a Freaky Friday moment when they wake up to discover they’ve all swapped bodies, in director Jenna Bass’ High Fantasy.
Bass uses supernatural body-swapping to explore issues of the highly contested topic of land, race, identity and gender relations in post-apartheid South Africa. Through their reactions and testing the ideal of the Rainbow Nation, all about togetherness, the young actors take us on a journey of the lived experiences of the South African youth today, as they are not so optimistic about the “new” South Africa.
The farm is owned by Lexi’s (Francesca Michel) family, and she’s invited her two best friends; politically radical black Xoli (Qondiswa James), happy-go-lucky coloured Tatiana (Liza Scholtz) and male friend token black, Thami (Nala Khumalo), whose bigoted attitude keeps the three young women on edge, as they do their best to get along and survive the weekend together.
The gender swap raises questions about propriety, with Thami swapped into a woman’s (Xoli) body – a body he has always seen as weak and as an object of pleasure. Thami is faced with having to reevaluate his actions and views.
Xoli, meanwhile, is confronted with having to think about what it might mean to be white, and reflects on their politics, as she won’t let Lexi forget her white privilege, and that her coloniser forefathers only own this land at the expense of the country’s black people that had their land taken away from them.
The film interrogates the nuances and realities of the post-apartheid Rainbow Nation of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Thami dubs the rainbow nation ideal as nothing but an ill-conceived fantasy, saying, “I believed in the rainbow nation before. I used to sing our national anthem with pride, almost have tears in my eyes. Now I don’t fuck with it. Our national anthem is bullshit, our flag is bullshit, our rainbow nation is bullshit. Bullshit.”
The film was impressively shot entirely on iPhone 7s, in a reality-TV-style, capturing themselves in the farm’s endless, haunting landscape. The dialogue is smart, funny, and I particularly enjoyed the fact that it captured the way young people speak. However, the sometimes-irrational melodramatics seemed forced, overacted and undermined the reality of the situations.
High Fantasy does a good job at highlighting the major social issues South Africa still needs to deal with, through real action and honest brutal conversations. Sadly, it doesn’t succeed in carrying that conversation very far itself. There is no real conclusion and one must come up with their own, as you are left with more questions than answers and many of the situations in the film are often not explored in depth or enough. However, the film does successfully question the notion of whether walking in someone else’s shoes, can really teach one compassion, empathy and understanding?
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