Much has been said about the fact that Nosipho Dumisa has made an ode to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window with her debut feature film, Nommer 37 (Number 37), and, for good reason. The film features the legendary British director’s infamous touch-points of suspense in its story-telling. But beyond an homage to a legend of filmmaking, Nosipho’s given us a calling card, of her skills as a filmmaker in her own right. She’s got a keen eye – and ear – for what creates tension, anticipation, and frustration, but also for taking the sound of a good idea and turning it into a good film.
The premise is centred on Randal (played by Irshaad Ally), a crook looking for way out of his criminal life on the Cape Flats, who gets himself into a bind, doing a shady deal that goes wrong and lands him in a wheelchair. Permanently — unlike Hitchcock’s LB Jeffries, played by James Stewart, who’s only temporarily injured. But it doesn’t do much to compare the two films side by side. There are many differences, because Nosipho has taken the skeleton of tribute and placed it in the grittier, darker setting of the Cape Flats, where truth is harsher than 1950s’ fiction.
While James Stewart and Grace Kelly gave us a couple to be memorialised on celluloid for the ages, Irshaad Ally and his co-star Monique Rockman, who plays his girlfriend Pam, have given us one for the here and now. You get wrapped up in their relationship – anxious for Pam, but overly-forgiving of Randal, and can’t help but root for them. You’re with them as they sweat their way through a blackmail scheme that’s spurred by the binoculars Pam gifts Randal as a way to keep him busy. You want Randal to succeed, only so that he can move on. But you also know how things have gone for him in the past, and Nosipho plays with this tension superbly.
Number 13 was meant to be Hitchcock’s debut film, so the title plays on the homage further, but South Africans will know the Numbers gang that operate through the Cape prison system too. The Cape Flats is ripe for story-telling – given how many movies have already been made in this setting, like Four Corners and Noem My Skollie. Add to this now, Number 37, which is a thrill from start to finish. It makes me excited to see what comes next from this talented young filmmaker.
Number 37/ Nommer 37 made its debut at SXSW. It opens in South Africa on June 1st and will make its way to the US later in the year.