The South African film renaissance continues with one of the most extraordinary and powerful films at Sundance, Son of Man. This is the story of Jesus, told in episodes from the New Testament, but set in present-day Africa. This is a Jesus (Andile Kosi) who says the same sorts of things he says in the Bible, is not 'updated' except in some of his terms of reference, and yet sends an unmistakable message: If Jesus were alive today, he would be singled out as a dangerous political leader, just as he was the first time around.
The movie has relatively little spoken dialogue, but a great deal of music, that joyous full-throated South African music that combines great technical skill with great heart. Some of the best moments belong to a chorus, singing the praises of the lord. Others belong to an actress named Pauline Malefane, who plays Mary, and sings in celebration after being told she will be the mother of Jesus.
She's told by an angel; the angels in the movie are small African boys with a few feathers attached here and there, looking on with concern. Jesus's disciplines include a few women along with the men this time, and they follow him through the townships of Cape Town as he preaches non-violence. Television news tells of occupying forces and uprisings, the modern version of the Roman concern with the Jews. Judas spies on Jesus with a video camera. The secret of the movie is that it doesn't strain to draw parallels with current world events because it doesn't have to.
The movie was directed by Mark Dornford-May, but it is an improvisational collaboration of the Dimpho Di Kopane Theater company, which also created Dornford-May's great U-Carmen (2005), a version of Bizet's opera sung entirely in Khosa. That, too, starred Pauline Malefane, a trained opera singer.
I find it very interesting that the film plays strongly on the political angle of Jesus. Scholars are increasingly emphasizing that the charge nailed to Jesus' cross was a political one, not a religious one (King of the Jews).
Obviously pretty much every Jesus film for the next few years will be reacting in some way to The Passion of the Christ. That film removed any political aspect from Jesus's death altogether so it's nice to see the balance being restored.
Tnere's some more info in this article Son of Man Stuns Sundance
Labels: Jezile (Son of Man 2006)