Sunday, 23 October 2011

Around the World in Eighty Movies - number 4

Country: South Africa / Botswana
Title: The Gods Must Be Crazy
Director: Jamie Uys
Cast: N!xau, Sandra Prinsloo, Marius Weyers, Louw Verwey
Year: 1980
Running time: 109 minutes
Genre: Comedy/Action
Notable for: Smashing box office records in South Africa

Never has the casual discarding of an empty Coca-Cola bottle caused as much strife as it does in Jamie Uys' The Gods Must Be Crazy. Thrown from a plane the Coke bottle lands in the Kalahari desert and is found by a tribe of Bushmen. At first they find many uses for the humble bottle before tribesman Xi, played by Namibian tribesman N!xau, after seeing the rise in jealousy, anger and violence the bottle's ownership brings forth, decides it's an evil item and sets off to return it to the Gods. Uys' comedic tale of noble savages, religious beliefs and contemporary, consumer driven Western culture was a huge hit throughout Africa and farther afield, with it eventually being distributed to over 45 countries through strong word of mouth.

Whilst some critical voices deemed its portrayal of the Bushmen to be culturally insensitive the majority of critics and audiences judged it to be a successful satire of modern Western civilisation as seen through the eyes of its hero Xi. As well as providing laughs The Gods Must Be Crazy also acts as an, admittedly shallow, historical document of Bush life before major social changes brought about forced relocations and the abandonment of the hunter/gatherer lifestyle for many of Southern Africa's indigenous peoples. Spawning three inferior sequels Uys' movie, a co-production between South Africa and Botswana, has a healthy cult following to this day and is a fine example of how to successfully tackle important cultural debates in a humorous, non-didactic fashion.

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