Number 37 is a South African thriller that has been compared to Hitchcock’s Rear Window. And very appropriately so, though this offers a much darker backdrop. A strong debut from Nosipho Dumisa.
Number 37 is a fascinating thriller from South Africa. And in this particular case, it’s very much about the location. The movie is also in Afrikaans – though quite a few English words and sentences are included, as it is the case with many languages worldwide.
For me, using Afrikaans as the spoken language offers a different kind of immersive experience. I haven’t exactly been shy about stating my hatred for using English in movies that take place in countries where another language is spoken.
This movie shows what living in the tougher areas of South Africa is like now. While it can be compared to areas in both Europe and the US, it’s still on a completely different scale.
A very believable cast
The casting of any movie is important, but for a movie like Number 37, it has to be believable in a different way. And it certainly is.
For one thing, several characters are missing quite a few teeth, which is one of the simple “side effects” of living in a very violent world with very little money. You don’t get your teeth fixed when they get knocked out. You just live without teeth.
The lead character, Randal Hendricks, is portrayed wonderfully by Irshaad Ally. If he looks familiar, you may have seen him on Homeland a few years back. Or in another South African production.
I must admit, I have a hard time seeing why his girlfriend is with him. Or rather, I would find it completely unbelievable if they didn’t start the movie by including a few anecdotes about their past together. This completely saves the movie because he is pretty intolerable – he has his reasons, but she certainly isn’t to blame.
His girlfriend, Pam, is played by Monique Rockman. She’s an actress with just one previous role on her resume. Hopefully, this will change soon because Monique Rockman is absolutely heartbreaking (and so pure) as Pam. Very impressive!
A strong and honest story
What I really liked about Number 37 (with the original title Nommer 37) is the brutally honest depiction of South Africa these days. Or more specifically, certain areas of South Africa, which probably do make up most of the country these years.
There’s nothing glorified about the situation for our characters. Not that any kind of excuse is made. You make your own choices and pay the price for them.
Unfortunately, the people around you tend to also pay the price, which is what the movie highlights.
Obviously, you still have your “bad guys” and “good guys”, but the lines are a lot more blurred. When being good and honest gets you nothing and you have to survive, things aren’t as black and white. Something many people living at least somewhat stable lives forget.
However bad things can get in the “Western civilization”, the rules of the game are very different in a country like South Africa. Cops can be corrupt anywhere in the world, but in some places, this seems more like the rule than the exception.
Writer and Director Nosipho Dumisa
Number 37 is the debut for its writer and director, Nosipho Dumisa. In fact, the story is both the short film and feature film debut. The short film is from 2014 with the feature film version coming out now in 2018.
I don’t know what will be next for Nosipho Dumisa, but hopefully, more stories like this one are on the way. I would definitely watch it. Also, I think these stories are important.
Don’t worry though, even if you don’t care about any political aspects of the storytelling, it’s still fascinating to watch for anyone. And really, Number 37 isn’t as much a political statement as it is just showing the way things are.
Then you judge how you feel about this. Or at least, it could make you think about what you would do in the same situation.
Number 37 is out in select theaters throughout November and on VOD in the US now!
Director: Nospiho Dumia
Cast: Irshaad Ally, Monique Rockman, Ephraim Gordon, Sandi Schultz, Danny Ross, David Manuel, Elton Landrew, Deon Lotz
Set in a rough section of Cape Town, Number 37 follows Randal Hendricks, a small-time crook who becomes wheelchair-bound in a drug deal gone wrong, and his hard-working girlfriend Pam Ismael. To distract Randal during his homebound days of limited mobility, Pam gives him a pair of binoculars. While idly surveying his block, he accidentally witnesses a dirty cop being executed by his gangster neighbor Lawyer. With a loan shark breathing down his neck, Randal decides to blackmail Lawyer, and enlists the help of both his girlfriend and his friend Warren. When the plan goes horribly awry, Randal’s options get more and more restricted—and not even local detective Gail February, investigating the death of her partner, may be able to help him.