Part of the Contemporary World Cinema slate at TIFF this year, director Mark Dornford-May’s Noye’s Fludde is a fascinating record of the exciting performance and dramatic art going on today.
This version of the classic biblical tale is set in present-day South Africa, though there is still a timelessness to the costuming and art direction that could place the action at any time. Here, Noah is now Noye (played by the talented and expressive Pauline Malefane), the strong-minded matriarch of a large family including her daughters, sons, and their spouses. After she is prevailed upon by God himself to build an ark for a coming flood destined to wipe out humanity, she and her family work together to complete the astronomical task before it’s too late.
It’s obviously a very recognizable plot, but what’s not so recognizable and rather refreshing is the way in which the story is presented. It was important for Dornford-May that the opera be performed entirely in the Xhosa language, by a completely black South African cast, using only traditional African instruments for the score. The result, taking a story that could be thought of as “Western” (Christianity was, after all, brought to Africa, in conjunction with some other things), but putting a distinctly African spin on it, is as entertaining as it is captivating.
Noye’s Fludde is a charming short with a talented and clearly very passionate company of players (they will be touring Asia and parts of America later this year). But more than that, it’s a testament to the fact that African performers have a lot more to offer than they’re often given credit for, and even more importantly, that African languages have as much power in conveying stories as English or French. Therein lies the beauty of the story - after a while the subtitles blend into the background, the music and the beauty of the Xhosa language comes to the fore, and while the viewer may not understand the words themselves, the feeling behind them is certainly not lost in translation.
Zeba Blay is a Ghanaian-born film and culture writer based in New York. She is a contributor to Huffington Post, Africa Style Daily, and Slant Magazine. She co-hosts the weekly podcast Two Brown Girls, and runs a personal movie blog, Film Memory. Follow her on Twitter @zblay.