“The film is exquisitely crafted and structured. The actors may be amateurs but, as Brecht knew, this is not the same as being bad, and there are several terrific performances in Come Back, Africa; performances that are only richer for their volatility. Nkosi and Modisane both appear, as does fellow Drum writer Can Themba. The long shebeen scene, in which only Miriam Makeba’s arrival can end a drunken debate ranging across issues local, national and existential, is among the greatest pieces of cinema I’ve seen.”
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“….You get the feeling that pretty much everyone involved is acting on behalf of his or her own life. Which of course is the case. And that’s even more awe-inspiring, when you think about it, than the film’s time-capsule value, which is considerable. Rogosin’s individual images of dusty Soweto and the teeming mines are striking and poignant, but the views of the center of workday Johannesburg are the most disarming and, finally, unsettling. The cars, the clothes, all very indicative of a completely up-to-date metropolitan locale. One big movie theater’s showing The Prisoner of Zenda, another is showingFiend Without A Face. It’s almost nostalgia-inducing, until you remember that this is Johannesburg…apartheid central. And then it hits you that, lack of particular skyscrapers aside, the place doesn’t look all that much different than pictures of New York City in the same period. And that’s terrifying.
Come Back, Africa plays at New York’s Film Forum through February 7. Go see it if you can, and look for the Milestone release in an arthouse near you… Martin Scorsese speaks the truth when he calls this “a heroic film.”
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“Come Back, Africa is both history and legend, about real, ordinary people in extraordinary—and ongoing—circumstances. The film remains complicated, interlacing stories and backstories, revealing at once adversities and strategies of survival.”
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Listen to Leonard Lopate’s wonderful interview with Harry Belafonte, Michael Rogosin and Robert Downey Sr on Come Back, Africa. Click here!
Come Back, Africa is filled not only with the sounds of Makeba’s mellifluous vocals but also those of the bands of boys in short pants and newsboy caps playing penny-whistles and the street buskers plinking out “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear.” Rogosin’s ruse that he was making a musical turned out to be partly true; yet no audio in Come Back, Africa is as piercing—or unshakable—as the keening heard in the closing minutes.
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“You can feel the faith and energy of the film’s argument, the latitude granted the performers… Shooting during the continent’s first great wave of postcolonial independence, he [Rogosin] depicts the outlier apartheid system in ways both fiery and subtle—a straightjacket of forcible ignorance, made all the more heartbreaking by the despair it creates in its victims…”
The miracle of Lionel Rogosin’s apartheid drama Come Back, Africa isn’t that it’s a solid, affecting artifact of a cruel society, but that it exists at all.
TIME OUT NEW YORK
“Four Stars! Come Back, Africa is a work of amazing grace—and a forgotten treasure.” -Sam Adams, Time Out New York
After a recent conversation with Susan Weeks Coulter, chairwoman of the Global Film Initiative, whose Global Lens series is currently in full swing at MoMA before a cross-country tour, my mind—in a humanitarian, can-do state—wandered to recent cinema history. Where has cinema caused change to happen, to move the needle in the name of progress? When was the last time this occurred—not a polite discussion, but real social and political change?
I found myself coming back to these prodding questions upon a recent viewing Lionel Rogosin’s second feature “Come Back, Africa” (1959). The film, which aesthetically works as a blend of pioneer documentarian Robert Flaherty and Italian neorealist Vittorio De Sica, exposes the jaw-dropping racism and social injustice that has victimized black South Africans under the apartheid government since its enactment in 1948….
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