Raw. Brave. Funny. Remarkable.
All of these adjectives have been used to describe Rise: The Siya Kolisi Story, which enjoyed a public screening last month and comes to M-Net on Sunday 26 February. There will be those among the audience who believe that they know Kolisi’s story, but the film adds, and exposes, many fresh layers to his narrative. The point of any real-life film such as this is to put it all on the line. What is the point otherwise?
To Kolisi’s credit, his story is unvarnished and even unpleasant in parts. There are deeply revealing cameos with his wife Rachel, who at one point exhorts that she doesn’t want to make him seem “like a monster” in her telling of their journey together.
So too the fractured, difficult relationship with his father, a flawed man with whom Siya has a tangled link. For all its pathos, it is part of what adds to the depth and quality of the film. It also reaffirms the staggering turnaround by the player himself, a man who admits to struggling with the demon drink and partying a little too hard in his early years.
Fundamentally, he started life on the back foot in Zwide in the Eastern Cape and endured struggles every step of the way. That he managed to make his way out to emerge as South Africa’s number one sporting hero is a scarcely believable miracle.
What the film also shows is how he has managed to straddle both of his realities: the one as a man from the township, the other as a father now living contentedly in suburbia.
For all his new-found fame and affirmation, he keeps going back to the township both because he loves doing so and because he feels most comfortable in the community he grew up in. To outsiders, this may seem odd, but Kolisi is no ordinary man and he recognises that he is a role model in an environment desperately short of them.
Lovers of pure rugby won’t be disappointed as the film unspools. The filmmakers managed to get their hands on old-time footage that demonstrates what a brilliant schoolboy prodigy he was, all power and fury and teenage cockiness.
More recent action intersperses the film, offering a potent reminder of his gifts as a player. The wild breaks, the extravagant pick-ups, the brutal tackles ... they’re all there to remind us of Kolisi’s majesty as a player.
Despite the often dark undertones, Kolisi also shows himself to be funny and self-deprecating, former teammate Scarra Ntubeni remarking that he’s always among the funniest players on the team.
Even among the many stories that abound, Kolisi’s is especially remarkable and deserving of a wide audience.
See for yourself.
Watch Rise: The Siya Kolisi Story on Sunday 26 February at 17:00 on M-Net channel 101.