The closing film of Sydney’s South African Film Festival 2020 is Academy Award-nominated director Angus Gibson‘s (Mandela) ‘Back of the Moon’, a tragic love story set in a rundown part of Johannesburg. It’s 1958 and Badman (Richard LukunkuBlack Sails), an intellectual and the leader of the most powerful gang in Sophiatown, lives life on his own terms in this crazy, cosmopolitan, half demolished ghetto. We also follow the striking Eve Msomi (Moneoa Moshesh), a torch-singer on the brink of an international career who’s giving her last concert in the local hall before she travels to London.

Gibson’s film bathes in gorgeous lighting, with phenomenal production design all around. As soon as we enter the local hall where Eve’s performing, the clothes everyone’s wearing gives a sense of wealth. There’s clearly money spent on the design of these costumes. But on the flip side, Back of the Moon (the title refers to a grungy bar most of the film takes place at) does miss a sense of cohesiveness that becomes clear in the third act.

It’s Richard Lukunku who leaves a lasting impression by not only showing a very macho side of his character, but also showcasing a vulnerability that’s unexpected and doesn’t seem forced, which makes you want to see more of Badman. He does take the spotlight from the rest of the cast, which do a fine job at delivering their lines, but don’t bring anything deeper to the table. Especially Eve Msomi seems to struggle with the more emotional scenes, right beside Lukunku. Which is a problem, since the second half of the film mostly revolves around Badman’s feelings for Eve and him confiding in her by sharing his suppressed emotions and dreams that could’ve seen him live a completely different life.

The first two acts are entertaining, well written (by director Gibson and co-writer Libby Dougherty) and let the viewer go back and forth between our two protagonists, who’ll eventually share the screen after Badman’s gang, the Vipers, senses his vulnerability, and turns on him. This is where the film goes a bit off the rails, regarding extensive amounts of violence and with some sort of strange sexual undertone, in which a few men get humiliated by aforementioned gang.

Back of the Moon is a well made film, with a talented leading man, who commands your attention with his versatile performance. A film that not only looks, but feels like a modern South African classic.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Back of the Moon‘ will premiere at Sydney South African Film Festival on Sunday 24 May at 7 PM AEST (GMT +10) and you can also catch a repeat screening on Monday 25 May at 3 PM AEST (GMT +10).

Tickets are available at https://ssaff.org.au/film-2020/back-of-the-moon/

SSAFF Review – ‘Back of the Moon’

Reviewed online (also screening as part of Sydney South African Film Festival), May 20, 2020. Rating: MA15+. Running time: 95 min.

PRODUCTION: A VideoVision Entertainment release of a The Bomb Shelter production. Producer: Desireé Markgraaff. Executive producers: Teboho Mahlatsi, Angus Gibson, William Kentridge, Anant Singh.

CREW: Director: Angus Gibson. Screenplay: Angus Gibson, Libby Dougherty. Camera: Zeno Petersen. Editor: Megan Gill. Music: Philip Miller.

WITH: Richard Lukunku, Moneoa Moshesh, Siya Xaba, Jacob Ntshangase, Thomas Gumede, S’Dumo Mtshali, Lemogang Tsipa, Mohau Ravaza Shuncula, Isreal Matseke-Zulu, Emmanuel Gweva.

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