When you think about world cinema, Lesotho is perhaps one of the last countries that comes to mind. But with his remarkable debut feature This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection, Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese is putting his native country on the map. Indeed, this cinematic tour de force is a glorious tribute to a nation known as the Kingdom in the Sky.
This poetic drama stars Mary Twala as Mantoa , an 80-year old widow who is making plans for her final days. After outliving her loved ones, including her recently departed son, she makes her own funeral arrangements with the aid of hesitant fellow villagers. When a proposed dam threatens to upend her community and relocate them to the city, however, she becomes concerned for her people. As plans are put in place for the land to be flooded – including the grave sites of her beloved family members – Mantoa puts her death wish on pause to take a stand against the powerful industrialists. But mysterious forces threaten to stop her and destroy her sacred community forever.
A gravelly-voiced narrator intriguingly sets the scene, creating a mythic aura around a place and a people on the verge of major change. Central to his tale is the diminutive Mantoa and a land that was known as the Plains of Weeping. As he guides us through this historical account of the ravages of capitalism, his spoken poetry makes way to visual poetry.
Indeed, the majesty of the landscape is immediately arresting, creating vistas so lush and magnificent that they bring to mind the matte paintings favored by directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Further accentuated by the vibrant interiors of the homes and the eye-popping patterns on the clothing, the film is truly a feast for the eyes. And Mosese and his cinematographer Pierre de Villiers put it all together exquisitely with amazing shot compositions.
While cinephiles would surely salivate over the film’s gorgeous aesthetics, the engaging storyline will also captivate even the most casual movie fans. As Mantoa becomes the reluctant voice of her people, she emerges as a classic underdog hero to root for. Played with stoic power by Mary Twala, her heartrending scenes of emotional strife are worthy of the most iconic melodramas and their screen goddesses. And as an invisible antagonist attempts to sabotage her way of life, the plot thickens with suspense.
As proponents of the dam explain the need for modernization, it’s hard to ignore the reality of present day Lesotho, where almost 50% of the population still lives below the poverty line. As the film showcases the vibrant culture and fruitfulness of their agrarian society, it therefore poses pertinent questions about the meaning of “progress” and contemplates what is lost in the name of development. From the looks of stunning masterwork, it’s something precious indeed.