BIFF Movie Review: Material

Set in Johannesburg, Material opens with an evocative scene in which Ebrahim Kaif (Vincent Ebrahim), a Muslim Indian, undergoes the rituals of morning prayer. Soon after, we meet his son, Cassim (Riaad Moosa), who shares his father’s devotion both to their religion and their tight-knit family unit.

By day, Cassim works in his father’s fabric shop (hence the clever double entendre title), which he is poised to take over in the near future. Business at “Kaif and Sons” is faltering, mostly due to Ebrahim’s refusal to allow the shop to evolve with the times. In fact, Ebrahim’s stubborn nature has alienated his brother, along with almost everyone outside of their nuclear family.

Unbeknownst to his parents, Cassim has been moonlighting as an aspiring stand-up comedian. With the help of his best friend, Yusuf (Joey Rasdien), he sneaks off weekly to a local bar’s open mic night to do his schtick, which mostly revolves around poking fun at both his Indian heritage and what it means to be a modern Muslim.

When his parents find out about his “standing comedy” act, and subsequently forbid him to further engage is such “haraam”, Cassim and Yusuf must concoct inventive cover stories for Cassim’s increasingly popular gigs.

It’s no wonder that Riaad Moosa delivers the stand-up scenes with such precision, as he is one of South Africa’s most beloved stand up comics, and on whose life Material is based.  Rather that a shopkeeper’s son, Moosa had just successfully completed medical school when he decided to become a comedian.

Writer/ Director Craig Freimond chose the father and son shop as the backdrop so that the story would resonate with more viewers, which was apparently right on the money. Freimond said that so many people have approached him after watching this film and told him stories about how they couldn’t pursue their dreams because of obligations to a small family business.

With outstanding (and hysterical) supporting performances by Rasdien and Krijay Govender (Cassim’s grandmother) and a sweet romantic subplot woven in tactfully, Material really hits the comedy mark. In fact, it is the only film I’ve seen this year at BIFF that made me laugh out loud.

Coincidentally, it is also the only film that made me shed a tear. Both Ebrahim’s and Cassim’s struggles to stay true to their own beliefs are quite moving.  Freimond did a fantastic job of addressing the universal question that he calls the ultimate goal of the film: “What is a child’s responsibility to family when it conflicts with their responsibility to their own destiny?”

If you missed out on all the great films at BIFF, you can go to the Busan Cinema Center and wade through the archives for a look.

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