‘This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection’ is a masterful tale of grief, belonging and defiance. It is centered on the life of an 80-year-old Mosotho matriarch ‘Mantoa, portrayed by the late South African legendary actress Mary Twala Mhlongo in a towering performance.
In a village nestled amongst the mountains of Lesotho, the 80-year-old widow awaits the return of her only surviving family member, her son, who is a migrant worker laboring in a South African coal mine. It is Christmas and he is due home.
Somber messengers deliver the news: her son has died in a mining accident. Distraught by the untimely death, ‘Mantoa struggles to find meaning in her existence. Consumed by grief, her yearning for death and reuniting with her family steadily grows. She yearns for him to be laid to rest in the local cemetery with her loved ones.
‘Mantoa winds up her affairs early and makes arrangements for her own burial. Her plans are threatened when she learns that the village is about to be compulsorily resettled due to the construction of a dam reservoir. The land will be flooded and the cemetery to be degraded. Her resolve is an unwavering one; igniting a collective spirit of defiance within the community. In the final dramatic moments of her life, her legend is forged and made eternal.
The film is Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s beguiling fiction feature debut which clearly displays much of what has been a reality for most villagers in Lesotho as most of the events are inspired by the very real Lesotho Highlands Water Project aimed at providing drinking water to South Africa. It is introduced by a storyteller narrator and lesiba player (Jerry Mofokeng Wa Makhetha) who brings an in-temporal and magical air to the film.
The film has made history by becoming the country’s first official submission for the Best International Feature Film category at the upcoming Oscars.
In a country with no semblance of film culture, for Mosese’s film to get this is already a big achievement. But in order to meet the Oscars’ eligibility criteria for nomination, the film had to be screened for at least a week in South African cinemas, this was because there is not a single cinema in Lesotho.
On its road to the Oscars, the film has received a number of international accolades. In addition to opening the Durban International Film Festival last September, it won the Special Jury Award for Visionary filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival in the United States of America. It also won the Best Film at the Hon Kong International Film Festival’s Firebird Young Cinema Competition in China and the New York Waves Award at the La Roche-sur-Yon Film Festival in France, just to mention a few.
The acting in the film is exceptional with supporting roles of firebrand actors such as Makhaola Ndebele, Tseko Monaheng and Siphiwe Nzima-Ntšekhe giving their hearts out, which shows just how much talent there is in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.
It is, therefore, not a far-fetched dream for the film to win the coveted award although the road is still long.
Last year, about 93 countries made submissions of 93 films in the Best International Feature Film category. The first round involved accepting the submissions that qualify. In the second round, the Academy’s international feature screening committee watches the films over a two-month period that ends in early February 2021. The submissions will then be trimmed down to seven films with three more to be chosen by the Academy’s executive committee.
The ten selections will be announced on 9 February 2021. The feature films will then be watched by the rest of the Academy’s membership to choose the final five nominees for the best International Feature Film award. The films’ success on an international level and hopefully clinching the award will not only be good for Lesotho but for the continent. Surely we can remember the joy across the continent in 2006 when the South African film Tsotsi won the Best International Award.