South African actress Mary Twala Mhlongo (deceased last summer at age 80) becomes an avatar of grief in “It’s not a funeral, it’s a resurrection.” With a beautifully shriveled face that feels weighed down by everything she’s seen, Mhlongo plays a widow, Mantoa, whose underage son has just died. At first, she sits at night by the radio, listening to obituaries and seemingly waiting for her own maker. But she launches into indignant action when a dam project (true to reality) threatens her village with erasure and desecration.
Lesotho-born director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese shoots his film as something of a living legend, with a mix of warm hued paintings and defiantly hillside portraits. Mosese hits a knockout blow in the very first sequence, a pot of narcotics on a hauntingly lit party stage that relies on the figure of the film’s narrator, playing a lesiba (a mouth-blown string instrument). Although the film periodically returns to this mysterious storyteller, Mhlongo (who also appears in Beyoncé’s “Black Is King”) carries the film on her shoulders with an authoritative presence.
Mantoa rallies the inhabitants of his farming village, while going through periods of despair and perplexity. Haunted by the score’s buzzing soundscapes, the film feels a bit put together in blocks. His impact radiates from Mhlongo’s discontent, whether it is with the pedestrians of a priest or the politician who says displaced villagers can simply exhume and bring the remains of their ancestors.
The film’s press announcement drops the word ‘cryptic’ but, after a year of worldwide loss from Covid-19, the need to properly mourn the dead couldn’t seem more immediate and recognizable.
It’s not a funeral, it’s a resurrection
Unclassified. In Sesotho, with subtitles. Duration: 2 hours. In virtual cinemas.