Mantoa: Forgotten by Death

MAGNIFICENT Mantoa (Mary Twala), draped in sadness. Photograph courtesy Twitter.

AS THIS FILM begins to unfurl, there are moments, from a cinematographic perspective that will leave you with your mouth hanging open. Devastatingly beautiful washes of colour and light conveying men on horses and a community broken by discontent permeate this work like swathes of poetry. This film, This is not a Burial, it’s a Resurrection, is Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s unapologetic tract on loss and crumbling structures in a rural community of Lesotho. It will be screened briefly in two selected Ster Kinekor movie theatres between 27 November and 4 December, for its Oscar-qualifying theatre run, but will also enjoy a lengthier season next year.

It is, however, the intense and mesmerisingly vulnerable robustness of the screen presence of the late Mary Twala who passed away in July of this year, that is the film’s secret ingredient. She’s tiny and grizzled, but the wisdom of her acting acumen forces the swirls of narrative vigour into the realms of the biblical. She portrays Mantoa, an elderly widow who has weathered more loss than anyone else in the village. She is armed with the holiness of this absence and sadness and holds the heart of the village and its moral conscience in her hands. Like the widow in Nikos Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek, she is enigmatic and powerful, articulate in her sense of tragedy.

Indeed, Twala has such drama and pathos invested in her presence, that there are moments when you feel you could read and understand the whole story just by looking at her face. The camera loves her with her rheumy eyes, her fierce solemnity, her enormous cranium and her presence which shimmers with conviction. She is often bigger in her gravitas than the landscape itself.

Premised on the edge of a village that is about to be subsumed by the construction of a dam, the work is peppered with sequences involving women at the river, sheep in congregation and crowd scenes that reach beyond the core of anything you may have experienced in film editing wisdom so far. This is an extraordinary work, which evokes the skills of filmmakers of the ilk of Jahmil XT Qubeka of Sew the Winter to my Skin, and documentary filmmaker Teboho Edkins of Days of Cannibalism fame. This has to do with the loose filmic way in which the narrative is allowed to unfold. It’s not predictable and holds the viewer at bay in terms of what is revealed, when, using the vastness of the landscape as an uncredited narrative character.

Having said that, there are moments in this film which are difficult to watch. Not because of how the work laps on the edge of a proverbial sea of chaos, but because of elements like the smallness of the font size in the subtitles and the depth of unrelenting darkness in many scenes.

It’s a tale of how a community – or an individual – will hold tight to values of the known until they – or she – can’t any longer, and is dramatically, magically, gutturally liberating in its denouement. It crowns Twala’s career with a performance of muscularity and depth that gives wholeness to the legacy she leaves.

  • This is not a Burial, it’s a Resurrection is directed by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese and features a cast headed by Jerry Mofokeng, Tseko Monaheng, Makhaola Ndebele, Siphiwe Nzima-Ntskhe and Mary Twala. Written by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, it is produced by Cait Pensegrouw and Elias Ribeiro, and features creative input by Yu Miyashita (music), Pierre de Villiers (cinematography), Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese (editing), Moonyeenn Lee (casting) and Nao Serati (costumes). It releases for a short season between 27 November and 4 December 2020 at Ster Kinekor Tygervalley and Sandton, for its Oscar-qualifying theatrical run, and is scheduled to enjoy a season during the first quarter of 2021.

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