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NECKTIE YOUTH

In gutters of suburbia Jabz (Bonko Cosmo Khoza) and September (Sibs Shongwe-La Mer) wander in an anhedonic daze.

It’s been one year since their friend Emily (Kelly Bates) hung herself in her backyard, live-streaming her suicide to millions all over the world. Their parents contentedly spend their days working and talking politics, largely oblivious to their children’s struggles with death, drugs, and drinking.

This is the world of NECKTIE YOUTH, the debut feature of South African director Sibs Shongwe-La Mer. A damning, hopeless reflection of post-Apartheid Johannesburg adolescent malaise, NECKTIE YOUTH feels not like the first film of a twenty-three year-old but the final film of an elderly cinematic statesman.

At times as stately and delicately composed as Yasujirō Ozu (Mer’s characters are often dwarfed by their surroundings, crammed into a single side or squashed area of the frame in static, medium-long shots), at times as esoterically experimental as Jean-Luc Godard (one English conversation between Jewish twins is accompanied by red Hebrew subtitles), the film also interposes faux-documentary segments where characters are interviewed about Emily’s life and death.

My one major criticism is that the narrative is so erratic that I didn’t realize many of the scenes between Jabz and September took place chronologically over the course of a single day. Of course, this could have easily been Mer’s intention; perhaps the aimless, seemingly directionless wanderings of the narrative are meant to reflect the inner emotional turmoil of its perpetually confused and inebriated characters.

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