Oren Gerner’s “Africa” and Yaron Shani’s “Reborn” were jointly awarded the top award at the 35th Haifa International Film Festival in October. “Africa,” the story of a retiree coping with growing older, also picked up the Danny Lerner award for best Israeli feature debut.
The director cast his parents, Meir and Maya, in the lead roles, and stars alongside them, thus blurring the lines between fact and fiction. Meir won the Michael Shvily award for best actor in an Israeli feature film for his role.
“Africa” is a subtle, observational film with little action. It focuses on Meir who, like many, is not entirely thrilled about settling into retirement. His identity up until his retirement was always intertwined with a sense of purpose, and his raison d’etre had been to be useful for his family and the community. As a result, his life becomes meaningless once he retires, as he passes his time hanging out with his dog and his wife, who is not yet retired herself and actually works as a psychotherapist in a home office. Meir also engages in his daily routines and creates projects for himself.
The film’s title alludes to a happier time in Meir’s life when he visited Namibia and led a more adventurous existence. In post-retirement, however, those adventures are mere memories and his present-day life feels irrelevant, at best, and depressing, at worst.
“Africa” gives us a glimpse of what it means to grow old and of the challenges we face trying to create meaning for ourselves in the “final chapters” of our lives. The film unravels slowly, forcing the audience to ponder its message and experience its poignancy and melancholy directly. This is a film likely to resonate more for those over 50 but is still apt to have broad audience appeal.