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What You Have Is Not Yours: A Review of Akin Omotoso’s Vaya

Your parents, they fuck you up, wrote Philip Larkin. He could have been commenting on Akin Omotoso’s Vaya where a father manages to put two families in peril. And he isn’t even alive.

The film follows several stories. There is a boy seeking to return his dead father’s body to his mother. A girl looking for a better way to live. A young innocent man gets caught up in crime. Other characters have own journeys to make within these first three tales.

Omotoso’s film recalls such films as Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros and 21 Grams. Like the former film, Vaya explores the society it is based in. In this case, Johannesburg, a city where, as a character says, “we don’t play”.

Little of what goes on in Vaya can be called play. The film occasionally appears to believe it is more special that it is and it would be for viewers who have not seen the aforementioned films. But its effect on the viewer still is earned. Over its last few minutes, there is a masterful unravelling and a stitching of the stories. If at the end the least innocent characters get what they might deserve, it is because Vaya is a morality tale with its complexity mostly at the level of plot. Nonetheless it is a rewarding piece of cinema that avoids sentimentalism.

The chief complaint with Vaya is same with all interconnected stories of this sort: For a film that works hard at realism the connections between the stories is too neat—as though nature comes with a map and somebody up there is having too much of a laugh. That person up there isn’t quite up there though. He is neither God nor god. He is the director. Or perhaps a parent.

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