1981-1990African CinemaDramaOliver SchmitzPoliticsSouth Africa

Oliver Schmitz – Mapantsula (1988)

From the Chicago Reader (Jonathan Rosenbaum) :
Shot in Johannesburg and Soweto by Oliver Schmitz, a white South African, this radical 1988 feature offers a grittier view of the anti-apartheid movement than Cry Freedom or A World Apart, both from the same period. A petty thief (Thomas Mogotlane) winds up in jail, meets other blacks involved in protesting racism, and gradually becomes politically aware. Banned in South Africa upon release, the film conveys a volatile sense of both time and place–according to the South African censor, it had “the power to incite probable viewers to act violently.”

From the NY Times (Janet Maslin):
The insouciant lead character in the South African film ”Mapantsula,” a thief named Panic, is as talented as he is cool. Panic is such an unflappable pickpocket that he can steal a man’s wallet and then stand there, switchblade in hand, rifling through the wallet’s contents while silently daring the victim to challenge him. He’s such a skilled shoplifter that he can wrap each half of a man’s suit tightly around one of his calves, holding the merchandise in place with heavy socks. And Panic is good with the ladies, too. As ”Mapantsula” begins, Panic’s concerns do not extend much beyond these particular spheres.

This fine and caustic South African film, directed by Oliver Schmitz and written by him and Thomas Mogotlane, the actor who plays Panic, is the story of Panic’s transformation. All around him, in the black township where his neighbors are vigorously protesting rent increases, Panic sees the difficult conditions under which others live, but he initially feels himself to be immune. ”These people live in a dream,” he says contemptuously of those blacks who hold regular jobs in the white community.

And he does his best to see that his girlfriend, Pat (Thembi Mtshali), who works as a maid for a rude and patronizing white woman, will herself lose her job. Panic visits Pat at work, insults the mistress of the house and throws a rock through her window, not so much for political reasons as out of the sheer, unbridled rage that is his guiding emotion.

To depict the process whereby Panic is radicalized, Mr. Schmitz gives the film a dual time frame. ”Mapantsula” (the title means something like gangster) cuts back and forth between scenes of a freewheeling, unreconstructed Panic on the streets and a warier man who is now in jail, though the circumstances of his arrest are not explained fully until the film’s end.

In jail, Panic at first shares the camaraderie of his fellow prisoners, who are there for political reasons, and he shares their jailhouse humor. ”At least we have privacy, and we don’t have to worry about being arrested any more,” one prisoner says.

Panic is treated brutally and insultingly by the white police, but this is only one factor contributing to his conversion. The others can be found on the street as he gradually begins to see past his self-interest to the harsh facts of black South African life. In true renegade spirit, ”Mapantsula” was made semicovertly (the script shown to censors was for an ordinary gangster film), and it feels more authentic and less contrived than other South African films that have been shown here. The interaction between blacks and whites in street scenes, the day-to-day routine of life in a black neighborhood, and the galvanizing spirit of black South African music are all powerfully felt.

Mr. Mogotlane makes Panic much more than a symbol, treating him as a raffish, amusingly overconfident figure at first and a visibly shaken man as the film progresses, until at last he utters the single syllable that encapsulates the film’s final point. It’s a dashing performance, and a fierce one, too. ”Mapantsula,” acted by a good and forthright South African cast, is also filled with the buoyant, inspirational a cappella music that drives its political message further home.

849MB | 1:42:21 | 640×496 | avi


Language:English / Zulu / Sotho / Afrikaans
Subtitles:English hardsubed

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