Yesterday (Leleti Khumalo) is a young woman living in a tiny rural town in Kwazulu province in South Africa with her six-year-old daughter, Beauty (Lihle Mvelase). Yesterday becomes ill and, after several failed attempts to be seen by the lone doctor at a clinic several hours' walk away, is diagnosed as HIV positive. At the doctor's urging, she travels to Johannesburg to find her husband (Kenneth Kambule), who works on the mines there, to tell him of her diagnosis and that he needs to be tested. He beats her viciously and sends her away.

Months later, he returns to the village, dying of AIDS. He has lost his job. She takes care of him. Rumors spread in the village that Yesterday's husband has "the virus." The people begin to avoid them both, and the (true) story is told of a young woman in a nearby village who, after moving to the city and then returning home with AIDS, was stoned to death by her people. There is no room for her husband at the hospital, so Yesterday builds a scrap metal hut outside the village and cares for him there until he dies.

At one point the doctor observes that Yesterday's body is resisting the disease well; she replies that it is not her body, but that "I have made up my mind: until my child goes to school I will not die."

When the new school year begins, Yesterday gives a delighted Beauty her school uniform, and the schoolteacher promises Yesterday that she will take care of Beauty. Yesterday watches as Beauty begins her first day at school and then walks home alone.


A powerful, heartbreaking (and very beautifully filmed) account of one family's experience of HIV-AIDS as the pandemic is now playing out in southern Africa. The film quietly captures a wide range of significant aspects of AIDS in developing countries: the role of inadequate health care and health education, the effects of women's vulnerability to infection and to bearing the social and physical load of the epidemic because of their lack of social and sexual autonomy, and the place of socioeconomic factors such as male migrant labor in promoting promiscuity and disease transmission.

At the same time, the film presents an unforgettably individual picture of a woman managing an extraordinary burden with grace, and of the relationships that surround her. The school teacher, a source of education and compassion, is an important character, as are the sangoma or traditional faith healer (presented as a significantly negative character, opening up interesting room for discussion), and the overworked white female doctor whose perfectly rational effort to manage the spread of the disease by sending her patient to find her husband has such painful consequences for Yesterday.

The film's title is cruelly ironic: Yesterday was named by her father because things were better in the past. South Africa's history and its present and future, both sociopolitical and epidemiological, are provocatively highlighted.


In Zulu, with English subtitles. Nominated for 2005 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and 2005 Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Film

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