Monday 29 November 2021

On demand: "This Is Not A Burial, It's A Resurrection"

We don't often see films from Lesotho, which is one reason why
This is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection stands out from the pack: it's operating according to its own set of rules and traditions. Consider the prologue, which most immediately suggests what might result if David Lynch ever found himself filming a nightclub in Africa. To a soundtrack of atonal parps, writer-director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese's camera creeps past Caligari doors and shadowy figures to alight upon a narrator-figure, keen to tell us a tale about modernisation. That tale concerns Mantoa (Mary Twala), an eightysomething widow living in a small village regarded more or less as an anthill by the authorities. We learn early on that this woman has known more than her fair share of tragedy: her husband's long gone, and her story opens with news that her son has perished in a mining accident. (Twala, too, has the lined and folded face of someone who's lived a life.) We may also sense that Mantoa's now expected to lie down and die - as with her village, the pointedly named Nazareth, which finds itself in the course of being relocated so a reservoir can be built on this land. To an extent, this is a done deal: Mantoa's neighbours are beginning to up sticks and move away, leaving the bodies of their forefathers buried in this ground to be washed away and forgotten about. Mantoa herself, however, elects to stay put, becoming a one-woman pillar of resistance, a symbol of defiance in the face of municipal indifference.

Such a synopsis might position This is Not a Burial... as a Saturday night crowdpleaser for all the family (old dear sticks it to The Man!); it still might serve as such, although there are also elements here that are difficult and challenging. Perhaps the closest we've seen to Mosese's film are those ultra-deliberate items the Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa has fashioned out on the islands of Cape Verde: borderline gallery pieces that prioritised portraiture over narrative momentum, where every shot is its own tableau, and every scene a lingering setpiece in its own right. Even at its driftiest, though, the film has a way of grabbing you with a vivid effect: it's now been several weeks since I saw them, but the copper-blue walls of the heroine's hut have stayed with me, as have those stretches of soundtrack that unspool backwards. (Like Mantoa, they go their own way.) The pacing may sometimes be an issue, but there's not a single dull shot to be witnessed, even before the village sheep nudge and jostle their way back into frame. And at the project's centre, a quiet miracle: this is an entire film centred on someone whom the movies wouldn't typically notice, a figure who moves slowly, espouses a responsibility towards those around her and the bones beneath her feet, and who now, having spent her entire life looking out for others, understands she has one action left to take. The final stretch, in which Mantoa comes to dig her own grave as the ultimate act of protest, becomes all the more moving with the knowledge Twala herself died shortly after filming, leaving This is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection to bear out the promise of its title - as a work that preserves this woman's memory and spirit forever more. Another reason this is a film like few others: it takes care.

This is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection is available to stream via MUBI.

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