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Film / Yesterday (2004)

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Yesterday is a 2004 film from South Africa directed by Darrell Roodt.

The movie isn't named for the day before today and it isn't named after a Beatles song. Nope, Yesterday is a person, a Zulu wife and mother living in the Zululand region of South Africa. She lives in a humble small house in a small village with her little daughter, Beauty. She isn't quite a single mother, but she might as well be, as her husband John works in a mine in Johannesburg and only comes home on rare occasions.

Yesterday develops a cough that she can't shake, as well as feelings of weakness. Twice she makes the long, long walk to the nearest clinic, only to be turned away when the office closes before she can be seen. When she collapses in her doorway, her best friend the local schoolteacher arranges for her to be driven to the clinic. Yesterday gets pretty much the worst news possible: she has HIV, which has developed into full-blown AIDS. Faced with disaster, Yesterday sets herself only one goal: live at least a year, which will be long enough to see her daughter go to school for the first time.


This was a South African film that was produced by HBO and ran on HBO in the United States, and thus is a rare example of a work that was nominated for both an Oscar and an Emmy award.


  • Country Mouse: It isn't dwelt on at length, but Yesterday is clearly ill at ease when she has to go to Johannesburg to give John the bad news. She looks nervous, and there are several camera shots of the skyscrapers towering far above her.
  • Flashback: After John splits Yesterday's lip, there is a depressing series of quick flashbacks to happier times in their marriage.
  • Gossipy Hens: The town water pump is where all the women like to hang out and gossip. Yesterday recommends it to the schoolteacher, but it becomes less benign when the women start gossiping about her.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: If the opening scene where Yesterday walks cross-country for miles and miles to see a doctor weren't enough of a hint, in the second scene she is revealed to have a persistent hacking cough. It isn't hard to figure out what the doctor's visit is going to reveal.
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  • Never Learned to Read: Yesterday is embarrassed when she has to admit she can't read a form at the doctor's office. This seems to be at least part of the reason she is determined to live until Beauty's first day of school.
  • No Name Given: Yesterday's best friend the schoolteacher is never named.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The last shot has the camera pulling away as Yesterday, who has been showing more obvious signs of AIDS, walks back home after seeing Beauty off for her first day of school.
  • Staggered Zoom: A staggered zoom out from Yesterday and the doctor at the clinic, when Yesterday finds out the result of her blood test.
  • Witch Doctor: The sangoma, a sort of shamaness that Yesterday visits after twice failing to get into the clinic. She fails to diagnose Yesterday's HIV, but she does advise Yesterday to let her anger out.
  • Would Hit a Girl: John reacts to Yesterday's news by freaking out and beating her up. She goes back home with a split lip. Later—after his own AIDS manifests—he is repentant.
  • Your Cheating Heart: No doubt Yesterday can put it together when, having never had sex with anyone other than her husband, she finds out that he has given her a sexually transmitted disease.

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