Number 37


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Number 37
"Dumisa proves very capable when it comes to building suspense, yet, thanks to sterling work by Ismael Essop, is able to step back from time to time to remind us that we're watching not mere cyphers but human beings." | Photo: Lindsey Appolis

When it comes to acquired disability, the first six months are the most difficult. Randal (Irshaad Ally) goes through the usual stages - struggling to take in the reality of it, believing that his useful life has come to an end, begging his girlfriend Alicia (Amrain Ismail-Essop) to leave. Luckily for him, she has no time for such bullshit. She has enough other bullshit to put up with from him - not least because the job on which he was injured led to him owing local loan shark Emmie (Danny Ross) money - and Emmie intends to collect.

25,000 rand - about £1,450 - might not sound like a lot to some viewers, but in the Cape Town slums it's huge - especially when the deadline is just a week away. Randal and Alicia are living hand to mouth and he's now in a position where it's very difficult for him to leave the apartment, never mind go out to work. But he's determined to come up with something. In the meantime, he sits in the living room window with his binoculars, passing the time by watching his neighbours. And he spots an opportunity.

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There's obviously a good deal of Rear Window being recycled here, but Randal's view doesn't present us with the aspirational community on which LB Jeffries feasted his eyes. What first draws Randal's attention to one of the flats in the block opposite his is a beautiful woman stripping down to her underwear, but he's less comfortable watching her take the beating that follows. Later, looking through the same window, he sees a corrupt police officer being shot to death. His first instinct is to call the cops, but he hesitates. The people who committed the murder have money. He knows they're successful drug dealers. So he enlists a friend and sets up a scheme. He'll blackmail the drug dealers to get the money to pay off the loan shark.

What could possibly go wrong?

Full of the kind of brutal violence that is very much par for the course in gangland but which tends to go unseen by people who can afford to live in more comfortable areas, Number 37 is likely to be received quite differently by different audiences. What will matter to both is the viscerality of the action scenes, the tight editing and the way that director Nosipho Dumisa captures aggression. Unused to getting on the wrong side of gangsters, for all that she's aware of what they can do, Alicia is understandably terrified, and Ismail-Essop communicates this in her performance without depriving her of agency. Whilst Randal may be more inured to such things, he has to face, for the first time, the fact that he might be physically unable to defend either of them. This forces him to change the way that he thinks about situations. When the film opens, Alicia is despairing at him having taken stupid risks again. Ally effectively conveys the process of him growing up, perhaps coming to realise that he never could take on the whole world with his fists.

There's a big difference between partially paralysed and completely paralysed, however, at at a key stage in the film Randal discovers what he's still able to do both in and out of his wheelchair. With films routinely overlooking the action possibilities offered by wheelchair-using characters, this is good to see and is highly effective in adding to the tension. Dumisa proves very capable when it comes to building suspense, yet, thanks to sterling work by Ismael Essop, is able to step back from time to time to remind us that we're watching not mere cyphers but human beings.

Part of the Fantasia 2018 selection, Number 37 is an impressive début which suggests good things to come from this promising young director.

Reviewed on: 29 Jul 2018
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A man who has recently become partially paralysed owes money to the gangster who financed the job on which he was injured, and hatches a still more desperate plan to get it.

Director: Nosipho Dumisa

Writer: Nosipho Dumisa, Daryne Joshua

Starring: Irshaad Ally, Ephraim Gordon, Luke Jansen, Elton Landrew, Deon Lotz, David Manuel, Monique Rockman, Danny Ross, Sandi Schultz

Year: 2017

Runtime: 111 minutes

Country: South Africa


Fantasia 2018

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