Promotional poster for the film Ayanda. Courtesy Toronto Black Film Festival.

Ayanda (and the Mechanic) (2015) is a complex story of betrayal, trauma, ambition, and resilience. South African director Sara Blecher — known for Otelo Burning (2011) — and writer Trish Malone present a coming-of-age narrative that focuses on working-class life in South Africa via the entrepreneurial and vibrant life of a 21-year-old girl named Ayanda (Fulu Moguvhani).

Ayanda (and the Mechanic) is told through the eyes of a nameless, young documentary-filmmaker striving to convey stories of ‘modern South Africans.’ Shot in Yeoville, a district in Johannesburg known to be a melting pot for its diversity of African immigrants, the film follows the headstrong Ayanda, who longs to preserve her deceased father’s memory. As the former owner of car repair-shop Mosses Motors, Ayanda’s father fixed old cars and resold them at auctions while Ayanda would use the shop to refurbish old furniture — her first true love. But after a freak accident at the shop, her father’s premature death left no real successor to any one person, leaving Mosses Motors to fall into serious debt.

Struggling to save the shop from being sold by her shady uncle and business partner Zama (Kenneth Nkosi) and apathetic mother Dorothy (Nthati Moshesh), she devises a plan using her craft of revitalizing new furniture, selling revitalized cars to keep her dad’s business and memory alive. 

The film is at its best when exploring Ayanda’s dynamic relationships with Dorothy, and with her lover and co-worker David (O.C. Ukeje). After her husband’s death, an ambitious and creative Dorothy transforms into a meek, pragmatic mother who struggles to survive.

Unable to cope with this new reality, Ayanda grapples to come to terms with the mother she once knew and the mother she knows now, dismissing her trauma and heartache. In one of the film’s tenser scenes, Ayanda discovers Zama and Dorothy’s secret affection for one another, and even goes so far as to blame her mother for her father’s death.

Ayanda’s relationship with David is also quite fraught. As his causal lover, Ayanda is often oblivious to David’s feelings towards her and the sacrifices he makes in order to keep Mosses Motors alive. These relationships highlight Ayanda’s ambition and self-actualization, which are ultimately the magnetic pull of Ayanda’s character.

Cinematographically, Ayanda is breathtaking; almost each shot could be a stand-alone photo. The film also, oddly, integrates some stop-motion animation, which comes across as rather contrived, and serves no real purpose for the plot’s progression.

Sometimes, the glimpses into the characters in Ayanda’s life could be disorienting. Certain characters, particularly her brother, Lenaka (Jafta Mamabolo), could have been developed further. Nevertheless, Ayanda and the Mechanic is still worth watching — if not for its poignant portrayal of the complexities of life after catastrophic loss, then at least for its dynamic feminist narrative of determination and strength.

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