CLASSIC REEL : 'The Gods Must Be Crazy '

Cast: N!Xau ǂ Toma, Marius Weyers, Sandra Prinsloo and Michael Thys

Year of release: 1980

Directed by: Jamie Uys

Plot: After a strange 'gift' causes disharmony in a Kalahari community, a Bushman sets out to get rid of it and encounters civilisation and unexpected adventures.

This week's focus is on South Africa cinema's most commercially successful film of all time, unique in various ways. It was shot mostly at South Africa's beautiful yet wild landscape, one of which the Kalahari desert; where the San - also known as the 'Bushmen'- live. The skilful narration by Paddy O' Bryne made the first several minutes of the film feel like a documentary as the San, their ways, their language and their environment, are introduced and explained, followed by how the city people and their environment are way different.  In the rest of the film, more of this fascinating tribe's ways are presented via Xixo, played by real-life bushman and farmer, N!Xau ǂToma.

 The story begins when a careless dumbass throws an empty Coke bottle from an aeroplane and it lands smack onto the Kalahari desert. Believing it to be a gift from the gods, the people are immediately fascinated by the alien thing; being made of glass, had a shape unfamiliar to them and seemed to have various purposes. But the bottle causes them to quarrel, another alien thing that frightens these peaceful unmaterialistic people, hence the 'gift' must be gotten rid of.

The narrator follows and explains Xixo's journey to the 'end of the world' like he was in an absorbing storybook. Xixo is a gentle, rather childlike but resourceful character who finds himself bewildered by what he encounters, while he is on a mission to return the unwanted 'gift from the gods'. We find ourselves chuckling at him when he sees white people (who he thought were gods) for the first time, first the blond  Kate Thompson (Sandra Prinsloo), the new village English teacher. The narrator describes:

That morning, Xi saw the ugliest person he'd ever come across. She was as pale as something that had crawled out of a rotting log. Her hair was quite gruesome; long, stringy and white as if she was very old. She was very big, you'd had to dig the whole day to find enough food to feed her. 

The other white person he meets is  Andrew Steyn (Marius  Weyers), a scientist who partially steals the show via his extremely funny bumbling clumsiness when he's around Kate; the part when he makes an ass of himself at the school in front of the children would really leave you in stitches. But you can't help but love and root for him as he's the complete opposite of the arrogant and narcissistic tour guide, Jack Hind (Nic de Jager), who vies for Kate's attention. But Xixo finds an ally in native mechanic M'Pudi ( Michael Thys) who acts as a translator, as he previously lived with the San for three years and Andrew gets to know more about the San through him.

Xixo is definitely a fish out of water, his innocence and ignorance of his unfamiliar surroundings causing him to get into a few mishaps and unintentionally commit a crime, but his resourcefulness and knowledge of tracking and plants prove valuable during a tense hostage situation and unexpectedly makes him a hero in the end. Xixo goes home more enlightened about the 'heavy people'  who he initially referred to as 'gods' but not any less content or unmaterialistic than he was when he set out on his journey... and what a journey it was.


Jamie Uys, the film's director who also wrote and produced it, had a cameo part as the village priest.

For his role, N!Xau was paid $300, which he threw away- as his tribe did not use nor understood the value of  money. He received a larger payment for the film's sequel- funny but not as funny as the original- which was set up as a trust fund on his behalf. Jamie Uys made sure he received a monthly stipend, which continued until N!Xau's death in 2003.

Sandra Prinsloo's voice was dubbed as the actress spoke in a thick Afrikaan accent.


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