Montreal International Black Film Festival: Thursday night choices include music and memory loss in New Orleans, struggling siblings in a South African township

Aunjanue Ellis, left, and Bill Cobbs in Una Vida: Of Mind and Music, one of the films being shown at the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival.

Aunjanue Ellis, left, and Bill Cobbs in Una Vida: Of Mind and Music, one of the films being shown at the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival.

Many Montreal film festivals show several films at the same time, which can make life difficult for fans. How to choose?

Here are brief reviews of the two films that will be shown at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 at part of the Montreal International Black Film Festival; I hope that they are helpful!

Una Vida: Of Mind and Music is a gentle tale that unfolds in an unhurried way. Dr. Alvaro Cruz (Joaquim de Almeida) is a neuroscientist who lives in New Orleans. Appropriately enough for someone who lives there, he likes jazz and blues. His mother has Alzheimer’s disease.

Soon after the film begins he is overcome by guilt because his mother died when he was away at a medical conference. He keeps dreaming of a time in his childhood when he got lost while chasing an elusive butterfly.

He takes time off from work to just kinda hang around. He meets an elderly musical couple – singer Una Vida, and guitarist Stompleg. They play on the street and in a small bar. He can see that the woman’s memory is failing, though her songs seem more firmly rooted in her brain than other things are. As a scientist, he is intrigued by this situation; as a human being he wants to help if he can.

Everyone seems to like Dr Cruz, except for a young woman named Jessica, who does a lousy job of helping Stompleg to look after Una Vida. She is hostile and suspicious and tells him to stay away. of course, we know that he won’t, don’t we?

Oh, for what it’s worth – Una Vida is also known as Queenie, though her real name is Maizie.
There are some nice tunes in Una Vida: Of Mind and Music, but there isn’t really much of a plot. The fortysomething actress Aunjanue Ellis, who plays Una Visa, is made up to look much older, yet her voice still sounds quite youthful most of the time. The film is based on a novel written by a real life neuroscientist Nicolas Bazan. It has many rave reviews on Amazon.com.

Una Vida: Of Mind and Music, 2014, U.S.A., 97 minutes, In English, with some Spanish dialogue when Dr Cruz talks to his mother.
Director: Richie Adams
Cast: Joaquim De Almeida, Bill Cobbs, Ruth Negga, Sharon Lawrence and Aunjanue Ellis
Screenwriter: Richie Adams, Nicholas Bazan
Producers: Richie Adams, Brent Caballero, Nicolas Bazan, Nancy Green-Keyes

Busisiwe Mtshali plays Zanele in the South African film Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us), which is one of the selections at the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival.

Busisiwe Mtshali plays Zanele in the South African film Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us), which is one of the selections at the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival.

Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us) is about high-school student Zanele, and her older brother Thulas, who is raising her in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra. He is very strict and stern with Zanele, though he makes his living from robbing the homes of rich people. (We don’t actually see them do it, we just hear Thulas and his friends talk about it, and we see a bit of the loot.)

Zanele and her friend Tumi look very young in their school uniforms and white ankle socks, but Tumi is already flirting and accepting rides, meals, drinks and money from smarmy older men who own cars. She calls one of them the Minister of Finance. There are always lots of people in the street, so her behaviour does not pass unnoticed.

Thulas orders his sister to stay away from Tumi, but rebellious Zanele remains loyal to her friend. We know that this is bound to lead to trouble.

There are some very uncomfortable scenes in Thina Sobabili, and certain connections and coincidences seem too a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, it is quite impressive, especially considering the fact that it was made on a tiny budget and shot in a mere seven days. Thina Sobabili is South Africa’s submission for the foreign-language Oscar.

Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us) 2015, 90 minutes, South Africa, in Zulu with English subtitles,
Director: Ernest Nkosi
Cast: Richard Lukunku, Emmanuel Nkosinathi Gweva, Zikhona Sodlaka, Thato Dhladla, Busisiwe Mtshali and Mpho (Popps) Modikoane
Screenplay: Ernest Nkosi, Mosibudi Pheeha
Producers: Ernest Nkosi, Enos Manthata, Mosibudi Pheeha
Una Vida: Of Mind and Music
Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015, 7 p.m.
Cineplex Quartier Latin, 350 Emery St.

Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us)
Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015, 7 p.m.
Former NFB Cinema
(Judith Jasmin Annexe)
1564 St. Denis

Tickets are $10. Check the Montreal International Black Film Festival web site, www.montrealblackfilm.com/ for further pricing details, the film schedule, film synopses and trailers.
The Montreal International Black Film Festival has a Facebook page, too.

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