Filmmakers in South Africa have always been pretty good at creating lighthearted romantic comedies and the occasional heartstring tugger of a genuine love story. But given the country’s history of racial segregation and cultural diversity, it makes sense that complex themes underpin many of them. Whether you’re looking for a genuine love story, a chuckle at the expense of someone else’s romantic life or a powerful tale underpinned by love and hope, one of these films should have you covered.
Inxeba (The Wound)
Inxeba is one of the most powerful and controversial South African films in recent history. A young man heads to the mountains to undergo a ritual initiation process while harbouring a secret, forbidden love. The film grapples with issues relating to culture, tradition, masculinity and sexuality that has recently seen it controversially reclassified in South Africa to a rating of X18.
Free State is a romance set in 1979, at the height of South Africa’s apartheid era. Laws prohibited relationships between people of different races, and Free State tells the heartbreaking story of a love affair between an Indian man and a white Afrikaans woman.
Sy Klink Soos Lente
Afrikaans romantic comedies are common in South Africa, but Sy Klink Soos Lente is a recent refreshing take on the popular genre. The movie tells the story of a mechanic who falls in love with his boss’s daughter, and in the course of trying to woo her, he exaggerates some of his life stories. A good script, solid directing and emotive performances make this a romantic comedy worth watching.
Dis Koue Kos, Skat
This food-based romance film is charming and engaging. It tells the tale of food writer Clara, who learns her husband is cheating on her. She relocates to Cape Town to escape the controversy surrounding her husband’s affair, and in doing so rediscovers her love for food and some romance of her own.
Happiness Is a Four-Letter Word
This heartwarming film follows three best friends living in Johannesburg, each with their own complex love lives and stories. Not everything is as it seems, and the refreshing, lighthearted film takes a few twists and turns to provide interesting insight into love and romance in the biggest city in South Africa.
This Afrikaans romantic comedy focusses on a hardworking woman who is fighting against a company takeover. The only way for her to prevent the takeover is to sign up a new large client, but the one she has in her sights has certain lifestyle requirements that lead her down a romantic road. Though the film follows the trends set by several before it, Semi-Soet is a pleasing local love story.
Five Fingers for Marseilles
Powerful local film Five Fingers for Marseilles is a beautifully shot South African Western, filmed on location in the small town of Lady Grey. Though the slow-burning drama adopts Western genre conventions, the script is underpinned by a profound and powerful love story that runs thoughtfully but subtly throughout the film.
Love the One You Love
South African love stories that don’t focus primarily on race relations are uncommon, and although the topic is difficult to avoid in a country so intertwined with such issues, Love the One You Love manages to tell a beautiful love story without relying on familiar tropes. Instead, it tells a moving love story about middle-class Cape Town that offers insight into two lives in a way not often seen on local screens.
Tell Me Sweet Something
This recent romantic comedy has a stellar local cast and tells a moving love story about a Johannesburg couple. A bookstore owner falls in love with a model, and though an unlikely couple, they become romantically involved. The tale takes several unlikely turns, and the result is an intriguing and moving local love story.
Mrs Right Guy
Mrs Right Guy tells the story of Gugu, who has a habit of rejecting men before they get too close to her. Though in a self-imposed love exile, Gugu slowly learns more about herself and what she wants in life, which leads to some heartwarming discoveries.
South African comedian Kagiso Lediga made his directorial debut with Catching Feelings, and though the movie is unsurprisingly humorous throughout, it’s also pleasingly heartfelt. It follows a jaded academic and his wife who have their lives turned around when an older writer moves into their Johannesburg home. The film tactfully deals with issues that underpin many established relationships, and what emerges is a touching, and at times hilarious, love story.