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This is an extraordinary and otherworldly feature film from the tiny landlocked kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa. It is the tale of a rebel spirit: an elderly woman who opposes government plans to flood her village, making way for a dam. It’s a film about resistance and resilience, but director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese is coolly unsentimental and realistic about the inevitable march of capitalism and construction. Weaving in ideas around displacement, collective identity and history, this film takes on almost mythic qualities.
Some of the actors are non-professionals, but the central role is performed by Mary Twala, who appeared in Idris Elba’s Nelson Mandela biopic Long Walk to Freedom. She plays Mantoa, an 80-year-old widow whose son – her last remaining relative – is killed in a mining accident in neighbouring South Africa. (The film isn’t about poverty, but it’s present in every frame.) Feeling ready to die, Mantoa is making arrangements to be buried in the village graveyard when she hears of the dam project; villagers are to be forcibly resettled in the city. Mantoa decides to put stop to it. She has nothing left to live for, and in a sense this gives her real power. She doesn’t care about offending the pastor, or if people think she’s a witch; she is bent on being buried with her family.
This is a severe, uncompromising film; it’s more like a series of images strung together, each framed exactingly, like a painting. At the centre of it all is Twala, often silent, her expression fixed in determination – no words needed. Mosese has said that to avoid cliche he wrote the character as a man then switched the name to female. And Twala gives a tremendous performance, intimate yet epic. This Is Not a Burial is the first film from Lesotho to be entered into the Oscars race for best international feature. Sadly, Twala did not live to share in the success; she died in July last year.
• This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection is on Mubi from 13 January.
Source: The Guardian
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