It seems like quite a few Jesus movies have come out of Africa in recent years.
The South African film Son of Man set the story in an unspecified modern-day African country back in 2006. The Kenyan film Get Some Money, which came out in 2017, imagined that Judas betrayed Jesus because he wanted to impress Mary Magdalene. And my friend Matt Page notes that a new film called Our Jesus Story premiered in Nigeria earlier this year, just a few days before the country went into COVID-19 lockdown.
Other films one could point to include Story of Judas, a 2015 film that was technically a French production, though it was shot in Algeria with North African actors, and — going back much earlier — the 1968 film Black Jesus, which was an Italian production and more of a Christ-figure film than a Jesus film per se, but it too was set in present-day Africa, specifically in a fictionalized version of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Now we can add Lamentations of Judas to the list.
Technically, it’s a Dutch film, produced by European companies and directed by the late Dutch filmmaker Boris Gerrets, who died in March of this year. But the film concerns real-life Angolan soldiers who worked for the South African government during the apartheid era, and who now — because they don’t want to talk about their experiences directly — are invited to participate in a re-enactment of the story of Judas.
This is how Google Translate renders the film’s blurb in English:
Angolan soldiers, known as ‘The Terrible Ones’, once fought in the colonial wars of ‘white’ South Africa. In the 1980s they were repatriated to the ruined town of Pomfret and deployed as order troops in the townships during apartheid times. Years later, when filmmaker Boris Gerrets travels to South Africa and asks some of the remaining veterans about the role they played in the wars, he encounters a wall of silence. In order to confront them with the past, he asks them to play in the film version of the gospel of Judas Iscariot, the ultimate story of betrayal. In this way they become both characters in the documentary and actors in the Bible story, making the paradox of the perpetrator and victim perspective visible. Gradually, the voice of Judas merges with the voice of the filmmaker.
Here is how the blurb at the Movies That Matter festival puts it:
After the MPLA won Angola’s war of independence in 1975, many of its defeated enemies from the FNLA went on to fight for the South African army. Known as 32 Battalion, nicknamed ‘The Terrible Ones’, they fought in the service of the Apartheid regime against their black compatriots.
Now the men tell their stories in Pomfret, an abandoned desert town where only they live, in squalid circumstances. Pomfret is also the backdrop for the re-enactment of the story of Jesus Christ and Judas Iskariot, in which the men play the disciples. Do they identify with the Romans who arrested Jesus? Or with Judas, personification of betrayal? The faces of the men tell a thousand stories: stories of heartache and regret, of doubt and pain. As one of them says: ‘The suffering is too much. And we suffer for nothing.’
It sounds reminiscent of The Act of Killing, the 2012 documentary about some men who took part in an anti-Communist purge in Indonesia in the 1960s and were then invited to re-enact the atrocity, almost half a century later, in the style of various movie genres.
Anyway, here is the trailer for Lamentations of Judas, with subtitles in English:
And here is an interview, in English, with producer Eric Velthuis:
The film is apparently coming to theatres in the Netherlands August 6. I don’t know what sort of distribution plans there are beyond that, but I’ll keep an eye out for them.