The Burden of Loss: Our Review of ‘This is Not a Burial, Its a Resurrection’

The Burden of Loss: Our Review of ‘This is Not a Burial, Its a Resurrection’

After spending the better part of nearly 2 years bouncing around the festival circuit since its debut at 2019’s Venice Film Festival, Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s This is Not a Burial, Its a Resurrection starts a regular theatrical at home run exclusivley through the Digital TIFF Bell Lightbox on May 28th, 2021. Cumbersome title aside, This is Not a Burial (to preface the title) tells a fairly minimalist tale that is more an in-depth character study of its lead Mantoa, played with great ferocity by the late Mary Twala (billed here under her full name of Mary Twala Mhlongo).

After finding out that her only living member of her family, her beloved son, has passed away, all that Mantoa wants to do is die so she can be with her loved ones again. But when the Chief (Tseko Monaheng) tells the villagers that the village will all be relocated, to be replaced by a dam, Mantoa defiantly disagrees. Determined to be buried next to her ancestors on her original land, Mantoa becomes a lightning rod for her community and rallies the local priest (Madhaolo Ndebele) and her neighbors to fight back until sudden unexplained acts of violence threaten to make the move regardless.

It becomes pretty obvious as the film goes on that many of the cast here are either completely untrained non-actors working, very unfamiliar with the Sesotho language film is being shot in, having to read their lines phonetically, or a combination of both. Thankfully the supporting characters are very much in the background here. And while there are still some stumbles from Twala as she uses the language, it’s much more accomplished than many of the others. Twala’s performance is at times ferocious, pensive, thought-provoking, and generally masterful throughout, which is great since the film would likely fall apart without her holding it together as so much is centered directly on her shoulders.

Other than the language issues from his cast, which causes multiple pauses throughout the film, Mosese also makes some dubious choices with some of his set pieces and tools. The film opens with a slightly overbearing narrator played by Jerry Mofokeng that will turn likely turn off as many viewers as it intrigues. Thankfully after the first third of the film is over his presence is greatly diminished. The second choice that doesn’t quite work, at HOME that is, is a very obtrusive sound design/score that overpowers the audience in many sequences and overmodulates many speakers. In a theatrical setting this would be regulated by the theater. But watching it at home means consistently adjusting your volume.

The film does pack a visual flair that certainly begets the promise of Mosese’s future behind the camera. Mosese definitely has a distinct eye, making him a director to keep an eye on. But this film belongs to the late Mary Twala. And she defiantly grabs the reigns from the very beginning and doesn’t let go. Her performance is award-worthy and should keep audiences enthralled throughout the 2-hour runtime.

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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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