This review contains spoilers for the movie “High Fantasy.”
In the opening scene of “High Fantasy,” we see a group of friends just like any other. They are laughing, filming and sleeping in their car while they travel to a farm in the Northern Cape of South Africa. They argue throughout the film about politics and the role of men and women in the world.
Thami (Nala Khumalo) is the only man in the group, creating an interesting dynamic of give and take of opinions, arguments and perspectives that play a commentative role throughout the film. One of the film’s writers, Liza Scholtz, also plays Tatiana, a more demure and unimposing role. Thami, Lexi (Francesca Varrie Michel) and Xoli (Qondiswa James) are a powerful presence on screen, creating conflict, laughter and serious debate.
Thami was especially interesting to watch during the film. At first he comes across as a crass, womanizing, overly-macho jerk and it is unclear as to why he is on this trip in the first place. In the beginning, he even states, “All men are trash,” and the others tend to agree. Although almost comical in its honesty, this line captures a significant aspect of the movie, Thami is one of the most complicated and intense characters in the film.
Thami embodies the image of South African men as something that needs fixing. After having sex with Lexi and feeling cast aside, Thami says, “I’m a black man and I’m a fucking problem,” which grabs the audience's attention and makes us see him as the emotional and vulnerable person that he is instead of the heartless, sex-crazed man he is often perceived to be by the other characters. This, I feel, is a strong and important commentary, on not only the social culture of South Africa, but the role men play and how they are perceived in the world.
As the film progresses, the plot takes a surprising and somewhat confusing turn. The group wakes up the second morning of the trip to find that they have all switched bodies after smoking marijuana the night before. One of the most intriguing swaps is when Xoli, a black South African, switches into Lexi’s body, who is a white South African.
Xoli is rightfully proud and connected to her black heritage because it is a significant part of who she is and how she identifies. When she is placed in Lexi’s body, she feels the anger and hurt that comes with that loss of identity. Her display of these powerful emotions is one of the most important moments in the movie. After they have switched back into their own bodies, Lexi reveals during an interview in the film that she is angry that she is white. In this sensitive segment of the film, race almost becomes a character of its own — it has weight, importance and a voice that speaks through each character in their own way.
In another interview that gave insight into Xoli’s personal conflict with Lexi, she expresses that Lexi seems to be the protagonist of the story and that it would be nice if she could be the protagonist for once. This comment, simple and clear, is one the most compelling lines in the film because it elegantly reveals Xoli’s hidden discomfort and yearning. This group of friends, as close to one another as any friend group, has hidden doubts, angers and fears that jeopardize their peace just like the rest of us.
I feel this film is a strong and effective tool to demonstrate the complexity of the human experience, especially because it is an international film that does not have American influences. “High Fantasy” is an interesting, confusing and unexpected cinematic experience I can honestly say I have never seen before. It left the audience in a contemplative state, reflecting on how we have a responsibility and opportunity to create understanding in a world of chaos.
Edited by Siena DeBolt | firstname.lastname@example.org