2020's Best in Review: This Is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection
A Powerful and poetic social justice drama.
There is a scene in the middle of this film when the priest, surrounded by aggrieved villagers, is writing a letter of complaint to the government. As he proudly reads what he has written, one villager cuts him short asking him to get rid of all the poetry and be blunt. The priest patiently explains that he is a writer first and he is compelled to put things in a certain way.
This small argument cuts to the basic idea of the genres the film is operating in and the concern all filmmakers have : should the appeal to a broader audience stultify the artistic vision of a filmmaker?
Those who want to watch a rousing socially driven drama without the philosophizing and ruminations on the nature of grief are told in clear terms that an artist (the director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, in this case) has to apply their methods. Hence, the film's amazing cinematography, it's sensitive mise-en-scene and poetic cut-aways from the narration are all director's methods for telling this story. These are not separate from the tale, as being told here, but an unavoidable part of it.
This is not a burial.... begins with visuals that are poetic in their abstractness.
Inside an place that would not be out of place in a Lynch film, we focus on a man (Jerry Mofokeng) sitting in the far corner of the room. This man, carrying a string instrument called lesiba, becomes the narrator of the film and his songs and poetry carry the weight of mythology.
He talks about an 80-year-old widow Mantoa (Mary Twala) who has just lost her son, the last surviving member of her family. Her grief is palpable. The words offered by the local priest (Makhoala Ndebele) do not offer the solace that they once did. We see Mantoa grieving without tears. She spreads the clothes of the dead and sleeps on them. There is something majestic about these images (no wonder many are used on the posters). At one point, she even pretends to hold her husband while dancing.
Despite so many blows (or maybe, because of their severity), Mantoa finds only one expression fitting enough to express her sadness: arranging her own burial.
As she starts to make initial preparations, she finds out that the her town is about to be resettled, to make way for a reservoir. This, of course, also includes the graveyard.
As Mantoa rallies against the injustice of this, she finds a new lease of life. She also manages to ignite a fire in the hearts of the villagers (played mostly by the residents of mountain community of Ha Dinizulu).
Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese seems to take pleasure in everything that involves making a film - music, camera, tableaux and even the fabrics that are used as expression.
The performances are naturalistic, as expected in a film of documentary sensibilities. Mary Twala, who sadly passed away before the release of this film, imbues each scene with a quiet dignity and contributes richly to the film as a haunting experience.