Liyana – BFI London Film Festival Review

As cinemagoers. We often rely on a film to deliver on the basic promise of entertaining us, whether it be through wondrous spectacle or hysterical comedy. Yet for many of us, the delivery of dialogue or the lingering looks of an actor or actress, can have the most profound effect and unlock those deep feelings we tend to bury.

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For the orphaned children of Swaziland that sadly serves as a country with the highest rate of HIV, this is a generation that is all too acclimatised to isolation and fear. Resigned to not being able to showcase their talents to the wider world.
Enter the directorial duo of Amanda and Aaron Kopp along with acclaimed storyteller and activist Gcina Mhlophe, as they draw out the charisma and infectious enthusiasm of these children, crafting the absolutely captivating tale of Liyana that combines impactful documentary footage with spellbinding animation.

Immersed in the confines of the Likhaya Lemphilo Lensha orphans home, the collaborative and creative spirit is truly alive as Gcina prompts the children to provide specific elements to form the narrative arc and personality traits, that ultimately shape and build this particular heroine. Navigating us through this story with their wonderfully expressive narration, Liyana’s struggles as she desperately looks to rescue her young twin brothers, merely mirror the trauma and hardships they have faced in their early years.

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Living up to the ‘overcome fear and hold onto hope’ mantra of Liyana’s grandmother, this is a film that is poignant in its subversion of the tragedy that so often saturates stories that emerge from Africa.  Whilst it rarely shies away from unsettling subject matters like kidnapping and domestic abuse, Liyana is never heavy handed in its observations, allowing the sheer beauty of its compelling craft to shine through. The soul-stirring score only amplifies the enchanting watercolour effects of its animation, intertwining the emotional pull of its fact and fiction impeccably, as directors Amanda and Aaron capture both the gleeful glint and heady heartbreak that fills these children’s eyes impeccably.

Tapping into territory many of its genre counterparts wouldn’t dare to enter. Liyana is an inspirational cinematic experience that celebrates the catharsis art can provide in dark times. Gorgeous.

Liyana screens as part of BFI London Film Festival! 

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