Director: Jamie Uys
Year: 1980
Country: South Africa

The Gods Must Be Crazy is the screwball comedy that turned a San tribesman from the Kalahari desert into a world-famous movie star. N!xau (the exclamation mark represents a click) had apparently only seen three white people in his life before being cast for the film. Despite his inexperience, his cheerful comic performance and broad, white-toothed smile made him an icon the world over.

N!xau stars as the likable, friendly hunter-gatherer Xi.

The film opens with a pilot flying over the Kalahari desert, and absent-mindedly throwing an empty coca cola bottle from his airplane. It lands intact at the feet of Xi, a hunter-gatherer who brings it back to his small community. Baffled by this strange object that the gods have gifted them, Xi and his family use it as a musical instrument, a cooking utensil, a fire starter, and dozens of other things.

However, the bottle also introduces something that they San have never experienced: jealousy. It’s unlike anything they’ve ever seen, simply because there’s only one of it. Xi determines that the best thing to do is to take the bottle and throw it off the edge of the world, so he sets off alone across the desert.

The San struggle to understand the purpose of the bottle.

The rest of the film involves Xi’s madcap adventures as he encounters civilisation for the first time. He discovers cars and houses, befriends an Afrikaner biologist, accidentally terrifies a schoolteacher, and even gets mixed up in a nearby civil war.

Xi’s wacky misunderstandings often get him into trouble.

The Gods Must be Crazy keeps up a consistent stream of zany antics and hilarious culture-clashes. It’s hard not to get attached to Xi, whose perfectly logical yet always incorrect interpretations of the strange things he encounters are hilarious but not patronising. The film stops short of making him a simple punchline, treating him with just as much respect as any other character. The Gods Must be Crazy is nearly forty years old now, but the laughs hold up perfectly fine. I recommend this one wholeheartedly.


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