Mark Dornford-May's Dimpho Di Kopane theatre company transplants the Christ story to a modern-day African township suffering under martial law. Jesus preaches peaceful protest but is betrayed by a 21st century Judas who uses handicam footage to expose his comrade's political threat. In these CG-saturated times, the film's simple theatrical effects will prove refreshing to some but crude and unsophisticated to others. And its over-familiar story, played out in dusty, poverty-stricken locations, may be offputting to many.
This would be a shame, as Dornford-May updates the New Testament with some success. His tricks are modest yet vivid: the Annunciation is delivered by a boy whose angelic nature is suggested by a few feathers rather than spectacular wings and light shows. The birth of Christ is done in a storage shack, a fan grille behind Mary's head denoting her halo. The only jarring moment comes when the disciples are introduced in captioned freezeframe a la Reservoir Dogs.
"IT'S THE CRUCIFIXION THAT REALLY PUZZLES"
It's the crucifixion that really puzzles, however. As spoilers aren't an issue here, it's safe to reveal that Jesus is executed by the ruling militia using a gun, then buried in a pit. The 'Romans' don't do the crucifying - it's Mary (the excellent Pauline Malefane) who retrieves him, ties him onto a cross, then hoists him up on a hill for the town below to see. Does this very deliberate display suggest that Africa should recognise Christianity as a cure for its ills? Or is this simply the defiant gesture of a mother showing her country what tribal strife is doing to its sons? Dornford-May is probably using a classic text to comment on Africa, rather than trying to convert anyone. Those indifferent to reinterpretations of classic texts, though, are unlikely to make it this far.
Son Of Man is out in the UK on 7th March 2008.