Dir: Mark Dornford-May. S Afr. 2006. 86mins
The film earned strongnotices at Sundance, where it premiered in the world dramatic competition andshould perform well on the festival circuit. Sales prospects appear strong inAfrica, Latin America and religiously devoted European territories such asSpain, Italy and Poland. In the US it should perform well in urban markets andin the African-American Baptist churches.
Set in a convincinglydetailed Kingdom of Judea, ruled by violence and fear - complete with mediaaccounts of government sponsored terror campaigns and sectarian strife - Son Of Man shifts from the aesthetic andliteral approaches of The Last TemptationOf Christ and The Passion Of TheChrist Rather it is a hyper-realist musical, painted in eerie, sinistervisions of death, civil war and pain. Yet despite their hardships, theconviction and spirit of the people is never defeated, shaped as they are by a highercalling of hope and rejuvenation.
The more compellingreference is Senegalese film-maker Ousmane Sembene's recent Moolaade. But if Sembene examinedthe cultural ramifications of tribal rituals, political customs and women'srole in postcolonial Africa, then Son Of Man recasts the heartbreaking, moving story of Jesusas a parable about African independence.
In doing so it examines howthe drive toward democracy and tolerant societies is fundamental to staving offpolitical factionalism, poverty and destruction.
Mary (Malefane)envisions her encounter with Gabriel (Anthony) in a school classroom where thecorpses of young children form a human mountain of flesh. The grown Jesus (Kosi), sporting a shaved head and simple peasant uniform,is a master organiser and brilliant speaker. He convinces his apostles,including several women, that their self-determination is founded on non-violenceand social justice and a belief in their common good and decency.
Warned by Judas (Ngxabaze) about Jesus' masterful reputation as an organiserand brilliant preacher, the state's political apparatus - including the triballeaders who share power with brutal general Pilate (Gantana)- plan to assassinate the popular and fiery young leader. It results in agangland-style murder, with Jesus' body unceremoniously dropped in a mass grave.
This is agitprop movie-makingin the best sense, politically fierce, socially defiant and governed by a musicallylyrical flow of imagery. Like U-Carmen,the music is performed in Xhosa, and its rhythm and inflection creates a gorgeoustapestry of emotions, a plaintive cry for understanding and forgiveness andbeauty. Even though only parts are translated, the buoyancy and emotionalintensity of the songs is clear and unmistakable. Like much of the rest of Son Of Man, itregisters its own poetic, sharp responses.
The high-definition videolook has a searing beauty, especially in the contrasting use of locations, withthe beautiful desert and sand landscapes arrayed against the dust and grime ofthe overpopulated streets. In contrast the night-time exteriors have a brutalpower and effectiveness.
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Ntobeko "Top C" Rwanqa