An anonymous lesiba player sitting in a bar narrates for us, blending traditional and modern storytelling techniques. A small Lesotho village is facing annihilation; there’s a dam that needs constructing, and the residents’ houses, common buildings, and graves are in the way. The graves are the main point of contention in This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection. Elderly Mantoa (Mary Twala) has recently lost her son, the only close family she had left. She wants to be buried with him and her other relatives, and so she rallies the community against the dam project.
The film was Lesotho’s first submission for the Academy Award for Best International Feature, and despite not ultimately being chosen by the Academy, I think it’s better than all of the actual nominees. Director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese displays an acute sensitivity to condensing a whole history of different injustices done in the name of “progress” into a series of offhand references and meaningful shots. But the true center is Twala, saying little aloud but conveying years of thoughts with just her expressions and posture. She died last year, and now on top of everything else this film makes for a somber, fitting testament to her as an actor and figure in African cinema.
This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection is currently playing in virtual cinemas, including via BAM and the Museum of the Moving Image.