Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Made on a very low budget, the film looks rough, but the performances are solid enough and the leads have real chemistry." | Photo: Courtesy of Inside Out

If you're a gay man living in a country where being gay is illegal, how do you meet potential partners? And if you're a man who lies to thin of himself as straight, or at least present himself that way, what do you do if the man with whom you have had a discreet one night stand wants more?

These are two of the central questions in Kapana, a groundbreaking Namibian drama helmed by Philippe Talavera and made through the Ombetja Yehinga Organisation Trust (OYO). It begins with a meeting in a bar, George (Adriano Visagie) and Simeon (first time actor Simon Hanga) both nervous for their different reasons. Although other patrons in the bar mock a trans customer and make homophobic jokes, it's pretty clear that this is a place with a certain reputation and that nobody is calling the police. It's a don't ask, don't tell kind of culture in which the occasional slip might be forgiven, blamed on drink - but actually having a relationship is a much more difficult step.

Kapana, which many people outside Africa will not be familiar with, is a kind of grilled meat, usually beef, frequently bought as a hot snack and fulfilling the same kind of social role as chips or kebabs in the UK. It's through a kapana stand that Talavera brings his protagonists back together - a public place which cannot be avoided without making excuses which would sound strange and suspicious in themselves. Initial hesitations don't last long anyway, and it's not long before romance blossoms - but there is another secret yet to be revealed, and it will turn everything else upside down.

Made on a very low budget, the film looks rough, but the performances are solid enough and the leads have real chemistry. Though Talavera doesn't shy away from showing the passion between them, they emerge as rounded individuals whose longings go far beyond the sexual and are, importantly, easy to identify with regardless of one's own sexual orientation or even one's pre-existing prejudices. What's more, we get to see them as part of wider society, accepted by family members and by some other straight people, normalising not only gay relationships but also the acceptance of such relationships in a country where none of this is particularly unusual but it is extremely unusual for it to be presented openly.

Finding other sources of drama without having to rely on hatred either external or internal as an ongoing driver of the plot, the film finds room to tackle other issues which are at the centre of social debate in Namibia, unpicking ethically complex situations without patronising its characters. It goes to some difficult places but there is always a sense of positivity underlying the story, a warmth and energy which will be immensely important to closeted viewers.

Namibia is a young country just beginning to open up to the wider world. Kapana shows us what it's capable of, in more ways than one.

Reviewed on: 03 Jun 2021
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Kapana packshot
In Namibia, a country where sodomy is still a crime and gay relationships are stigmatized against, two lives intersect: George and Simeon. Two secrets. One unlikely meeting in a bar.

Director: Philippe Talavera

Writer: Senga Brockerhoff, Mikiros Garoes

Starring: Adriano Visagie, Simon Hanga, Felicity Celento, Elize de Wee, Dawie Engelbrecht, Mikiros Garoes, Foreversun Haiduwah

Year: 2020

Runtime: 60 minutes

Country: Namibia


IO 2021

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