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Jerusalema: Gangsters Paradise
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Jerusalema: Gangsters Paradise – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

On the cusp of the end of apartheid in South Africa, an excited teenager from Soweto, Lucky, gets accepted to study at university, but he’s rejected for a scholarship, so he can’t go.

Disheartened, he has to seek his education elsewhere and ends up falling under the wing of a former ANC militant.

Starting off car-jacking to order, Lucky soon finds himself rising up through Johannesburg’s post-apartheid criminal underworld and before long, he’s become the king-pin.

Turning the anger of the blacks against their white absentee slum landlords, Lucky builds himself a powerbase from which he takes control of all the sink estates in one of Johannesburg’s roughest neighbourhoods.

This puts him on a collision course with local drug dealers and a racist police, struggling to shake off the vestiges of apartheid.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Films about gangsters are two-a-penny, but in the setting of South Africa’s slums, this is something we haven’t seen before.

Jerusalema also gives us a fresh look at post-apartheid South Africa – rather than the optimistic country we’re presented with in films such as Invictus, we see a society where the freedom given to blacks has only highlighted just how far behind the whites apartheid has left them – fuelling more crime and more hatred, rather than less.

There’s so little humour in this grim, violent tale, that what gags there are seem contrived and out of place – such as a surprisingly revelation when he steals his first car – and the understandably awkward moment when he meets his middle-class, white Jewish girlfriend’s parents.

It’s stylish enough and there’s plenty going on, but most of it is the same kind of gangster fare we’ve seen many times before, it looks rather cheap and uses too many clichés to tell the story – not least opening with a dramatic scene from near the end of the film and time-lapse rooftop shots to bridge scenes.

The performances fit the character traits you’d expect them to, but this is more of a weakness than a strength, as it portrays the gangsters and police just like their counterparts from overseas, which takes away its unique selling point – that this is a South African story. At times, perhaps the most interesting thing about the new birth of this new country – the politics – is almost cast aside completely.

With this budget and cast, this is never going to be American Gangster – Rapulana Seiphemo certainly has none of the charm of Denzel Washington, but by presenting us with stereotypes and following a storyline which isn’t particularly challenging or surprising, it doesn’t give itself the opportunities it needs to succeed and leaves you feeling rather short-changed.

South African film is going through a renaissance, but while last year’s District 9 was out of this world, Jerusalema is sadly rather down to earth.

Opens nationwide 9th July 2010

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