Atandwa Kani and Phuthi Nakene in The Suit
"A powerful metaphor for the impact of oppression on personal relationships" - Atandwa Kani and Phuthi Nakene in The Suit. (Image: The Suit on Facebook​)

Fifty-three years after the publication of Can Themba's The Suit, the first film adaptation of the classic South African short story has been selected for screening at three international film festivals - putting it in contention for an Oscar nomination.

Filmed in historic locations in Sophiatown, Johannesburg and set against the backdrop of the forced removal of "non-whites" from the thriving suburb during apartheid in the 1950s, The Suit harnesses some of South Africa's top acting talent to bring Can Themba's moving tale to life on the screen.

Award-winning actor Atandwa Kani plays the part of Philemon, the lawyer who finds his wife, Matilda - played by newcomer Phuthi Nakene - in bed with her lover. When the man flees, leaving his suit behind, Philemon punishes Matilda by making her treat the suit as an honoured guest and companion on their walks - even on their visits to church.

Atandwa is the son of renowned South African actor John Kani, who produced the stage version of The Suit and makes a cameo appearance alongside his son in the film as Mr Maphikela, the friend who breaks the news of Matilda's affair to Philemon.

From Durban to Zanzibar to New York

Adapted and directed by up-and-coming filmmaker Jarryd Coetsee of Mandala Films, The Suit had its South African premiere at the 2016 Durban International Film Festival and its international premiere at the 2016 Zanzibar International Film Festival.

This was followed in quick succession by selection for the Africa in Motion Film Festival (Scotland, 28 October to 6 November) and the Shnit International Short Film Festival, which takes place in Bern, Switzerland and seven other cities across the globe from 5 to 16 October.



Then came the breakthrough - selection for the 20th Urbanworld Film Festival, taking place in New York City from 21 to 25 September.

Urbanworld is a qualifying festival for the Academy Awards, which means that, if The Suit were to win its award for Best Narrative Short Film, it would be considered for a nomination for the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film.

"We are delighted by this significant international recognition, which is a testament to the sterling work of our 102 cast and crew members and the unflagging support of the NFVF [National Film and Video Foundation]," Coetsee said in a statement.

"We are also thrilled at the prospect of sharing this powerful story with a wider global audience."

Shot in original buildings - and original bus

The film was shot in some of the original buildings in Sophiatown which survived the demolitions following the forced removals. It features a period bus which actually drove the Sophiatown route in the 1950s, hand-made costumes by award-winning designer Pierre Vienings, and period songs by Spokes Mashiyane, a pennywhistle great from South Africa's vibrant 1950s kwela music scene.

"The Suit is perhaps more universally relevant today than it was in the 1950s," Coetsee said. "It is a powerful metaphor for the impact of oppression on personal relationships, and also explores how unforgiveness, intolerance and revenge are paradoxically self-destructive."

First published in 1963, The Suit is the best-known work by author and Drum magazine journalist Can Themba. It was banned in apartheid South Africa, along with all his other writings, after the authorities declared him a "statutory communist".

Mothobi Mutloatse and Barney Simon's stage adaptation of The Suit was first performed at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre in 1994. A French translation/adaptation by playwright Marie-Hélène Estienne and British director Peter Brook, Le Costume, was first performed in Paris in 1999, followed by a revised version which toured the world between 1999 and 2014.

Coetsee and Luke Sharland of Mandala Films will be in attendance at the film's screening at the AMC Empire 42nd Street Theatre, just off Times Square, on 22 September.

Source: staff reporter

Contact the Gauteng Film Commission