April 7th, 2008
Review of the South African film Son of Man which was screened at The Sallis Benney Theatre in Brighton on April 6th 2008.
Son of Man is not a film you will see easily. It was made in 2005 in South Africa and was directed by the British director Mark Dornford-May. Its not available on DVD and was screened at the 2006 Sundance Festival to critical acclaim. Since then it has had an incredibly limited worldwide release, and was only just released in the UK in March 2008.
Son of Man tells the story of Jesus, from birth to death, but sets the whole thing in modern day South Africa, in the townships around Cape Town. The names and events are much the same as they are in the bible, but with many subtle differences. The Garden of Gethsemane is now a rubbish tip, the last supper takes place in a shack, some of the disciples are women and Herod becomes Herode, a modern day dictator who has seized emergency power.
There is very little dialogue in the film, but there’s plenty of music. As well as backing tracks the charcters in the film sing out often, to express joy, sadness and anger. This is not a musical though – all performances (with the exception of Mother Mary’s songs) are true to real African life, where expression through spontaneous singing and dancing is a common day occurrence. Some of these moments are incredibly moving and powerful, especially when Jesus’s disciples face a group of guards with rifles and sing in peaceful protest at his execution.
There is a strong political message running throughout the film, with many correlations to the present climate, especially the Kenyan riots that recently took place. In places this is quite subtle, and others, such as the scene where Jesus condemns the rulers of the West for their lies – less so. Watching this film made me sad that peaceful protest is so rare – and when it does occur, sometimes has little impact. This film gets one thinking about political issues, and questioning whether or not there is more that you can do, which is definitely a good thing.
Regardless of your religious beliefs (I am an atheist) this is a story many are aware of and lots of fun can be had in spotting the subtle differences between the two stories. More advanced theologians will no doubt get huge amounts of discussion after the film from this. The most important aspect about this for me was witnessing what life can like for many people around the world living in oppressive regimes, and the thought process that this lead me towards. More people should see this film!