‘This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection’ is an intriguing work set in Lesotho about a grieving mother

The Lesotho-born, Berlin-based filmmaker, Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, has returned to the big screen after his experimental video essay film, Mother, I am Suffocating. This is My Last Film About You, with a deftly crafted feature film.

This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection is more accessible, but no less brazen as it delves into themes of death, reverence and urbanisation. 

The project was incubated at the Realness Institute, an African screenwriter’s residency, and produced by South Africa’s trailblazing production company Urucu Media, which also produced The Wound (directed by John Trengove). 

This Is Not a Burial premiered at the Venice International Film Festival and will now have its African premiere at the Durban International Film Festival as the opening film.

In the Lesotho highlands, the fictional Nasaretha village came to be when its grounds were used as a burial place for those who died during the Black Plague. 

Once the land was colonised, a church was built and the villagers’ beliefs  were replaced. The old was to be forgotten forever, thus ushering in the inevitable chains of progress to which the village would have to surrender. 

The land is to be flooded to build a dam and some attempt is made to resettle the locals. To preserve the dead, their bodies are exhumed for reburial in the city.

Mantoa is the film’s protagonist — exceptionally played by Mary Twala, who died in July — who vehemently protests the forced removals. She had been waiting for her son to return from the gold mines for the day of jubilee. Instead, his two suitcases are dropped at her feet signalling his death. 

The scene is scored by Yu Miyashita, whose piercing violin composition is reminiscent of Jonny Greenwood’s orchestral soundtrack in There Will Be Blood

Mantoa’s grief is a most moving portrayal of descent into mourning. As a believer, she is undeserving of the hand God has dealt her; she not only grieves the loss of her son, but of her husband, daughter and grandchild. Soon she will suffer another loss. Her last worldly possession — her house.

After the night of fire, Mantoa returns to the site of black ashes and sits on the springs of her charred bed. It is singularly the most striking shot of the film, as a flock of sheep gather around her in protection and grace. 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is referred to as “Lamb of God” in the proclamation: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 

The film’s narrator, played by Jerry Mofokeng, muses that there is an assailant or an unfathomable force at work. The message of the sheep might be the benevolence Mantoa and the other villagers seek to restore their faith and endure their displacement.

This Is Not a Burial suggests that change is inevitable and questions that which is called development. The film leaves us asking how developmental change can be achieved without people losing their dignity and becoming further impoverished.

The remarkable ending enshrines the power of activism as Mantoa walks into the abyss and a young girl who bravely watches on is transformed.

This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection will be shown September 10 – 18  . The Durban International Film Festival is a virtual event and tickets are free. This review emanates from the Talent Press, an initiative of Talents Durban in collaboration with the Durban FilmMart. The views in this article reflect the opinions of the film critic, Taryn Joffe.

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Taryn Joffe
Taryn Joffe is a Cape Town-based film festival and distribution coordinator, programmer and writer.

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