Be it Pasolini‘s "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" or your church’s nativity pageant, the malleability of locale is one of the key factors in the widespread appeal of the story of Jesus. "Son of Man," which screened at the Sundance Film Festival, is a beautiful, inventive take on a familiar story, set in contemporary Africa.
The movie is a mix of gritty realism and fable, and director Mark Dornford-May finds many ways to place the story in a contemporary setting. Home videos record Jesus’ miracles, his sermons decry American companies exploiting Africa and sweatshop labor in Asia, and African dictators make false promises to their people, followed by martial law. As Jesus, Andile Kosi brings a calm righteousness to the role that seems just right, and Pauline Malefane’s performance as Mary is the embodiment of parental pride and concern.
"Son of Man" takes a greatest hits approach to the gospels, but it’s all in the telling. Mary sees an angel while playing possum in a classroom filled with dead children during a street battle. During the last supper, the disciples drink from a bucket in a basement.
One of the most beautiful moments in the film is the last: Jesus ascending a hill, followed by hundreds of boys in white robes.
"Son of Man" is not without its flaws. It’s a little too short, and the individual personalities of the disciples aren’t fleshed out enough. Still, this is a powerful film that can resonate with religious and non-religious viewers alike.