Review by Kristina Campbell
Rating: (5 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!]
Sunday, 10/19/2008, 1:00 PM
Feature presentation, $10 at Lincoln Theatre
(Alero Restaurant Brunch, at 11am – $35)
SET IN EARLY 1950s South Africa, The World Unseen explores myriad complex social issues of race and apartheid, mixed marriages and gender roles, and same-sex relationships.
Just as the film tackles a broad swath of issues, the plot lines are thick and at times difficult to follow. At the center is the strong Amina, who brings a feminist ideology to the Indian community in Cape Town. She operates a cafe, drives a taxi and gives driving lessons. And, perhaps most scandalous, she wears trousers. She’s daring, unconventional and willing to take risks where others in the community hesitate. She’s also strikingly beautiful, and star Sheetal Sheth’s interpretation of the character is inspirational.
Amina is immediately drawn to Miriam, who lives a much more traditional life as a wife and mother of three whose bread-winning husband feels strongly about her role as the homemaker. But when he hires Amina to plant a vegetable garden to stock the shop they’ve opened at their country house, Miriam and Amina find themselves alone for a night, during which they discover a shared love of literature and a strong mutual attraction. The tension builds as Amina teaches Miriam to drive — the close quarters present the women with an opportunity to act on their growing attraction. Miriam tells Amina, ”I wish I could be more like you.” Amina, just inches from Miriam’s face, says, ”Be careful what you wish for.”
Writer-director Shamim Sarif, whose screenplay is based on her novel of the same name, presents what feels like an accurate picture of the South Africa of the times, including the requisite racist and abusive state police officers. It’s also an interesting and rare look inside South Africa’s Indian population during apartheid.
The character development, from Amina and Miriam through the smaller roles, is rich and engaging, while the acting flows naturally. From the sparkle in Amina’s eyes to Miriam’s shy smile when she crosses paths with her would-be paramour, much of the drama is carried out in the body language of the characters. Despite the difficultly in following the storyline — the film tries to drive home too many messages at once — The World Unseen remains a lovely movie.