Pauline Malefane, Andile Kosi, Andries Mbali
Mark Dornford-May, Andiswa Kedama, Pauline Malefane
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In 2006, South African director Mark Dornford-May served up the stirring "U-Carmen eKhayelitsha," a remarkable and beautiful take on Bizet's "Carmen" performed in the Xhosa dialect starring Pauline Malefane in the title role.
This year, Dornford-May is back at the Indianapolis International Film Festival with yet another powerful film, "Son of Man," the story of Jesus set in present-day Africa. Malefane again collaborates with Dornford-May, first in the role of Mary and in co-writing the script and the music for the film.
Much like he did with "U-Carmen," Dornford-May takes a minimalist approach to dialogue and, instead, emphasizes visual imagery, choral pieces and inspiring musical works. With a theological approach that seems to cross lines between Liberation Theologies and Desmond Tutu's Ubuntu Theology, "Son of Man" is both fiercely loyal to the traditional Christian story of Jesus and, yet, daringly courageous in both politicizing and culturally integrating the story into words and images that resonate with African culture.
While the majority of the stories that Dornford-May and Malefane choose to include in "Son of Man" are quite faithful to Western understanding of the Christ story, it is undeniable that most Americans will consider jarring African interpretations of some of the most basic Jesus stories including, not so surprisingly, their more liberationist interpretation of the resurrection itself.
Malefane, as has come to be expected, offers a magnificent performance as Mary, to whom we are introduced as she hides in a school littered with the bodies of adults and children who have been slaughtered in her community. Likewise, as Jesus, Andile Kosi offers a take on Jesus that we seldom see in American cinema.
The film's musical score favors traditional choral pieces over the more familiar African tribal music to which we've become accustomed in such films, and the production design perfectly complements the film's mood. Camera work is intimate without ever seeming invasive, and the film's closing shot of a resurrected Jesus will likely stay with you long after you've left the theatre.
While not quite an equal to the mesmerizing "U-Carmen," "Son of Man" is a remarkable, inspiring and unique film that will inspire Christians and non-Christians alike.
"Son of Man" is currently on the film festival circuit worldwide and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
- Richard Propes
The Independent Critic