Shot on location in South Africa, Toby Wosskow’s impressive short film Sides of a Horn is the first to reveal the horrors of the region’s rhino poaching war “from both sides of the fence.” Avoiding graphic depictions of animal cruelty, Wosskow opts for a subtler, more effective approach: he examines the causes and effects of the ongoing conflict, his characters facing potentially unresolvable quandaries. This may be a “message movie,” but it’s a subliminally powerful one.
When you spend all day chopping wood to get by, as your wife slowly and painfully withers away from a disease, your options are limited. Such is the fate of Sello (Sherldon Marema) who, despite his ranger brother-in-law Dumi’s (Welile Nzuza) heartfelt imploring, makes a deal with local lead poacher (“Bring me my horn, and you’ll get your cut”) and embarks on a lone hunt to track and kill the endangered animal. The purposefully ambiguous ending will leave one thing clear: violence begets more violence.
“…embarks on a lone hunt to track and kill the endangered animal…”
Dumi and Sello engage in a heated debate – when pushed to the limit, how far will a man go? Dumi has a family to care for, but he holds his values above all. “It is not the rich man’s rhino,” he says passionately. “It’s our rhino.” Sello, on the other hand, will do anything it takes to save his dying wife. Wosskow gently probes both sides of the issues, demonstrating the ouroboros-like dilemma that has no discernible solution in sight.
Both of the leads deliver quietly soulful performances, each plausibly conveying their side of the issue. Nico Aguilar’s crisp cinematography captures nature’s vastness and beauty, juxtaposing it against the despondency and sweaty claustrophobia of Sello’s living quarters. Wosskow should be applauded for side-stepping overt edification, instead of conveying his themes through a slightly-stylized, City of God-like prism. Succinct, poignant and relevant, Sides of a Horn marks the arrival of a talent to watch.
Sides of a Horn (2019) Written and Directed by Toby Wosskow. Starring Welile Nzuza, Sherldon Marema, Dimpho Motloung, Mpho Noko.
8 out of 10