Film Review: Necktie Youth

In association with the Africa in Motion Scotland-Africa Film Festival.

When we think of big-city South Africa, we often think of its poverty, its income disparity and its corruption, all filtered through a historical lens of racial segregation. In some ways, the abrasive, tortured debut of Sibs Shongwe-La Mer attempts to circumvent this, instead focusing on the discontent behind a group of youths living in the affluent North Johannesburg suburbs, blissfully unaware of apartheid-era South Africa but living with its legacy, extinguishing their disillusionment with current events by engaging in a miasma of substance abuse, sexual recklessness and nihilistic ‘flirtations’ with suicide.

Necktie Youth, as its grim title suggests, begins with a jolting scene in which Emily, a young woman from the wealthy Sandton suburb live-streams her own suicide via a jump-rope in her back garden. The event sends ripples throughout her sprawling friendship group, the differing effects being covered in mock-interviews with the characters. Characters, such as one of the cocky, fun-loving protagonists ‘September’ dismiss the event as white people being “fucked up”, whereas his best friend Jabz, engages in a drug-infused downward spiral to cope with his mirrored disillusionment. Throughout, the characters’ dialogue is realistic, sharp and incisive, demonstrating surprising inroads in the lessening of racial prejudice in South Africa’s non race-specific nouveau riche, as characters’ discuss topics such as ‘trolling chatroulette’ amidst jolting n-bombs directed as a slur against lower-class black individuals by the black nouveau riche.

There is a distinctly jarring change in Necktie Youth’s tone, as its often poetic mishmash of black-and-white camera work covers increasingly claustrophobic events by increasingly anguished characters, not all of which work. It’s sometimes hard to feel sympathy for the character’s existential angst as two female characters fussily decide between ‘uncircumcised black cocks’ or their self-confessed experimentation with other women, whereas serious issues that are non-specific to South Africa, such as Jabz’s eventual suicide and a brutal rape scene are glossed over and shockingly under-analysed whilst a character who overdoses is simply dumped out onto the street.

Shongwe-La Mer succeeds in portraying the secret lives of South Africa’s under-publicised newly enriched to an often unknowledgeable audience, but he certainly doesn’t induce our sympathy, and his unfocused plot and tendency to brusquely hammer the audience with shocking and underdeveloped plot devices obscures and undermines his motives to depict the angst and misery of a surprisingly unreported demographic.

Necktie Youth will be screening on the 27th of October as part of the Africa in Motion Scotland-Africa Film Festival.

Watch the trailer here. 

For more information, click here.

[Liam Harrison]

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