There are just two words to describe Ralph Ziman’s biofilm which is also South Afrika’s official entry to the Academy Awards, Jerusalema, ‘gritty realism’. Maybe this is where my interrogation should end but no, I’ve got a lot to say.

South Afrika’s official entry in the category of Foreign Language Film had the more-bark-less-bite uMkhonto we Sizwe Veterans Association hot under the collar for having a character named Nazareth, who should be a former freedom fighter who, post-’94 chose crime as his meal ticket. Actually, Nazareth was perpetrating the kind of crimes (car hijacking, bank robberies, cash-in-transit ambushes, break-ins) that even researchers and crime statistics indicated that they were organised by people who have had military training, more like Colin Chauke.

MKVA, which wasn’t prominent until ANC president Jacob Zuma revived them as his official militia pre-Polokwane did not make it a point to watch the flick because, unless the sound wasn’t quality enough where I was watching it, I didn’t hear any mention of MK or ANC. Now, let’s Recylebin the MKVA attempt to be relevant post-Cuito Cuanavale.

Jerusalema is by far the best South Afrikan film that explores our immediate dark past and present that I have seen. Ziman’s use of archive material to create a closer-to-the-bone realism works brilliantly without creating a documentary feel on the action movie.

Nazareth is your typical disgruntled soldier, a la Timothy McVeigh who’s trying to find an outlet for all the violence inculcated in him by the Russians during his guerrilla training in Moscow. He then often uses political sloganeering which, in his attempts to sound conscious paints him as a demagogue. That is why his relationship with first, a younger Lucky Kunene makes for more magic than David Copperfield can muster.

What makes this film a must-see is the socio-political-economic exploration of Zakes and Lucky’s background. From selling wares in trains, to car washing, to small time taxi owning to big. Tupac Shakur had a line in his song Teardrops and Closed Caskets, ‘from misdemeanour to felony small time to selling keys/ I can’t believe the shit they’re telling me’.

Their relationship through thick and thin and the often apathetic approach at reproach of Lucky’s overly-religious mother is fully explored to the bone. Interesting is the involvement of almost everyone in the success of Lucky to become a ‘Robin Hood’ of Hillbrow by taking over dilapidated buildings, renovating them, cleaning the area of hoods, pimps, drug pushers and whores. Some ghetto version of socialism.

Quite interesting, the pushers and pimps are foreigners with deep central Afrikan accents. Ngu, the protagonist comes across as your typical Lagos hood with intelligence and ruthlessness (a capitalist nigger).

Lucky, portrayed by Rapulana Seiphemo is an average ghetto-boy made yuppie who ends up reasoning when his waistline grows bigger that he’s got a right to live wherever he wants and to screw whoever, that’s when he was bonking a Jewish nutritionist chick and living in the ‘burbs. His undoing is his sudden softness and his adoration for the bourgeoursie life that comes across as freedom. He quotes Italian mafia kingpin Al Capone and communist author Karl Marx under the same breath which comes across as less intelligent but justification of his failure to study at Wits. What does Marx’s ‘every property is theft’ and Capone’s ‘when you steal, steal big and hope you don’t get caught’ got to do with a dodgy charity?

The attraction is the excellent unannounced blurring of seniority lines, you don’t get to see when did Lucky become senior to Nazareth. It doesn’t seem like it happened during the latter's ten years imprisonment as he still had balls until he developed a crack habit, courtesy of Chelsea Club. It reminded me of a scene from Sopranos where old bed-ridden crime kingpin Junior told younger capo Tony when his nephew who was also his enforcer developed a drug habit and Tony wanted advice, ‘it’s like when your dog has rabies Tony, no matter how you love it you must put it down’. Nazareth dies when Lucky’s henchmen shoot him after Ngu made the mistake of thinking he was a dog, not with too much rabies and made him a human shield.

The film is well-made, shrewdly shot, excellently edited and the use of shadows and silhouettes portraying the changing of people’ fortunes and moods in this belly of the beast is spectacular. There’s no doubt that quality research went into this film, brilliant acting characterises the treatment of the script.

Hillbrow is the main character as at the end one realises that people come and go, but the dilapidated flats and unscrupulous landlords remain the same. Nazareth lived and died, Ngu died, Zakes died and only Lucky and Hillbrow remained standing. It is more like the same exploration carried out in Kgebetli Moele's award-winning book Room 207

This is a brilliant film that I have no doubt in my mind that it will bring the Oscar home – second to Tsotsi. 8/10

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