Breathe Umphefumlo

African Pictures

SIFF Says:

Puccini’s “La Boheme” is given the South African treatment by the team behind 2005’s international hit U-Carmen Ekhayelitsha. Transposed from 19th century Paris to a contemporary South African township and shifted from Christmastime to mid-June, Lungelo (Puccini’s Rodolfo) and his dormmates are dreaming of their big futures. During a frustratingly regular series of power outages, Lungelo is visited by a secretly consumptive Mimi who is in need of a candlelight and their meeting sparks a deep and passionate love accompanied by some of Puccini’s best-known music. The couple and their friends find themselves at a Youth Day celebration in which Zoleka (U-Carmen’s lead Pauline Malefane), a nightclub singer and femme fatale ignites an altercation which results in everyone being expelled from University. Director Mark Dornford-May and Cape Town’s Isango Ensemble have crafted another vividly entrancing opera tragedy with an African flair. The film production ably trades the Italian language for Xhosa and Puccini’s orchestra for a unique instrumentation of steel drums, voiced percussion, and vocal harmonies which flavor the drama and give the film a more intimate intensity. The excellent operatic cast is equally strong musically and dramatically with Malefane’s brassy performance of Musetta’s Waltz as a Jazz Trio is one of the film’s must-see scenes. Like U-Carmen, Breathe Umphefumlo brilliantly appropriates the cultural/political tradition of European opera while opening the international market to new African horizons.

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Film Credits
Mark Dornford-May
Pauline Malefane, Sifiso Lupuzi, Zebulon Mmusi, Mhlekazi Moseia, Busisiwe Ngejane
SIFF 2015