Hailed by The Star as “One of the country's most legendary films,” eLollipop, first released by Universal Pictures in 1976 and revived in 2004 as the opening film for the South African retrospective at the Cannes Film Festival, is certainly one of South Africa's greatest cinematic achievements.
Based on the story by Andre Pieterse, the film boasts a stellar cast, including Oscar winner Jose Ferrer, and Golden Globe nominee Karen Valentine. It is skilfully and powerfully directed by Ashley Lazarus. However, the hearts of the audience are largely won over by the marvellous performances of Muntu Ndebele, who plays the role of Tshepo, a young African boy who becomes the best friend of Jannie (played by Norman Knox), an orphaned white boy who is left at the door of a mission station in the remote Lesotho mountains.
When Jannie is involved in a tragic accident, and is rushed to America to receive the emergency surgery that he needs, the community pulls together to send Tshepo to be with him. The young African finds himself in a bustling world that he does not understand, but is reunited with his friend, and proudly hands him the symbol of their bond; a lollipop that he has brought all the way from his village's outpost store.
Set in the rugged beauty of the Lesotho Highlands, the film unfolds with a nostalgia reminiscent of The Gods Must Be Crazy, but quickly develops into a gripping story that centres around the inseparable relationship between a black and a white boy in a country strongly divided by racial tension, and explores various subtle complexities in South Africa in the late 20th century. The Christian Mission station is juxtaposed with the tribal beliefs of the witchdoctor, the modernisation of the western world is starkly contrasted with the tradition and simplicity of the African way of life, and the audience is constantly reminded that reality is seldom predictable and is never straightforward.
In light of the fact that the seventies were one of the most racially turbulent periods in South African history, Andre Pieterse's story is bold and provocative, and caused much controversy when brought to the public. However, the film also uses delightful humour and wonderful characterisation while exploring the beautiful friendship between the two boys, the personal growth of the American aid worker who slowly learns to understand and value the ways of the African people, the bigheartedness of the Mission staff and the courage and selflessness of the tribal community.
eLollipop is a poignant tribute to the possibility of what could be; described by director Ashley Lazarus as “a reflection of what was good and what was loving in South Africa “.