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Characters are landscapes in ‘This is not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection’

On the cinematography: 

The 4:3 format was my attempt to escape the tyranny of beauty. My country, Lesotho, is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. My fear, as a creator, is that when you are creating images of Lesotho, they can become very picturesque and that is what people walk away with. 

I wanted the landscape itself to become a character, and the characters to become the landscape. There was a specific place that I was drawn to that could bring that landscape. It was particular using a 4:3 because the audience can imagine the landscape if they want to imagine it. It allows them to complete the … puzzle. It adds a fluidity. One of the things that [cinematographer] Pierre de Villiers brought was his understanding of shadows and the sun. 

In Lesotho there is something very beautiful, it is called seriti. Motho o na le seriti. It’s like a force field. It is something you cannot touch. I wanted to play with the motif of diriti in a metaphorical way. It’s about the inner person, an existential crisis. The collaboration with Pierre was beautiful because he understands the sun and we’ve been talking throughout because I wanted to treat the film as a mosaic of ideas. Like [when] you walk into a cathedral. The film is a cathedral.

On working with the late Mary Twala Mhlongo: 

It was really beautiful working with Mary and [for her] to allow me to direct her the way I wanted to. She was used to being on South African television, which is a completely different style or language of creating work. My approach is a little bit different. It is almost like performance art, in a way. I felt like she gave it her all. She surrendered her body for this film to be made.

One of the things that was a bit of a challenge was that I wanted to be true and authentic to the language itself, Sesotho, which to me is one of the most poetic languages I have ever heard. Mary spoke a different Sesotho, so I had to lose certain battles to win a greater war. There were choices that I had to make. Regardless of these smaller negotiations that I had to do, she compensated with her body. Just the presence of her body became a landscape. One of the things I intended was for the characters to become landscapes, and this is what Mary brought to the film. 

What I wrote was very different. It was a character inspired by my mother. A character of a very dark-skinned woman who was sculpted bodywise. When I was sent the audition tape of Mary, I immediately fell in love with her, even though I didn’t write for a person who looked like her. The expression and poetry on her face was everything to me. It was everything I was looking for. I felt like she was someone who could transport my ideas as a sort of canvas. 

On the title of the film: 

The title was from a poem I wrote, with the line: “Walk into my mother’s womb/ Walk into my morgue”. This duality between a morgue and a mother’s womb was an homage to the land itself and to my mother tongue. For years I had been studying world cinema, neorealism or French new wave … I lost my tongue. I lost my gaze. I had to go back to my own mother tongue to create work and to create film. It took me back to my childhood and that’s where many ideas resonate from. 

 The title morphed into This is Not A Burial, It’s a Resurrection because it is these polarities that are consistent throughout the film. The title came before I thought of making the film. It was a feeling. It is abstract and doesn’t give too much, like the film. It’s like you walk into a gallery and walk away with things afterwards. It forces you to think of these polarities, the resurrection and the burial.

Lemohang Mosese was speaking at a virtual Indigenous Film Distribution event on 12 May

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