The director suffuses the piece with an entrancing mysticism, accompanied by a spectral score by Yu Miyashita. Its sharp dissonance resonates as if it were a choir of voices screaming from the afterlife. As Mantoa, Twala is framed small in the wide shots that compose a large percentage of director of photography Pierre de Villiers’ boxy frames. Within each shot, the camera and the labored composition interact (by way of zooms or subtle pans) to maximize their meaning. Saturated colors, the kind so rarely seen in Western cinema these days, pan the mountainous vistas and their open sky with a gorgeous timelessness.
In featuring cultural practices and ceremonies, Mosese doesn’t entertain ethnographic curiosity but presents them as vivid part of the tapestry of the world at hand. This tacit approach to specificity that doesn’t consider the white gaze as part of its cinematic language mirrors that of recent African releases that powerfully navigate storytelling and myth, like the Ivorian “Night of the Kings” and the Sudanese “You Will Die at Twenty,” or Pedro Costa’s recent Cape Verdean-centered “Vitalina Varela” in its treatment of grief and the human reproach of the divine. All of these stories are engrossed by a stark otherworldliness.
In her pursuit of a proper sendoff out of this mortal realm that no longer seems to have room for her, Mantoa does the opposite of getting closer to the Christian deity in her final days. She decolonizes death from the spirituality imposed on her, and in which she no longer finds meaning. It’s radical to hear her denounce how all the pain she endured over her existence was perhaps for nothing.
But just as nihilism appears to reign, Mosese turns her revelations into something much more powerful than simply giving up. Her meaning is found in the soil where she stands, where her husband built her a house with his own hands so they could make a home. It’s in the memory of the remains underground and in every flower that grows above them. The extraordinary Twala makes us believe; her unwavering conviction becomes an affixed fact in a place where nothing seems immovable any longer.
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