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Elelwani

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It all begins with a car journey: for Elelwani and Vele, it feels like they’re setting out on the summer holiday of their lives. Elelwani has just completed her studies and is in love with Vele, who is sitting right next to her. They drive through the ever greener countryside into Elelwani’s home village, where they intend to tell her parents of their plans to marry and spend their future together. They are greeted with a dramatic dance in honour of the first woman from the village to have gained a degree, or at least that’s what Elelwani thinks.

Yet she’s wrong: her parents reveal shortly afterwards that she’s been promised to the tribal king, the dance being the prelude to the celebrations for the planned wedding. Although the young woman initially rebels, she finally consents. What happens next is a cinematic initiation into the culture of the Venda: an ethnographic thriller with incredibly beautiful images and a disturbing plot. With this film, Ntshavheni Wa Luruli, himself a Venda, offers insights into an exotic culture without exoticizing it, all a result of his consistent refusal to explain its secrets.