Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but on the Cape Flats
It’s not the first time Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window has been reworked, but in this version, writer and director Nosipho Dumisa makes her stunning debut with her homage set in the milieu of the crime-ridden Cape Flats.
Hitchcock’s 1954 mystery thriller is widely considered one of his best, and the premise is solid. In Nommer 37 (be patient, the relevance will be revealed later in the film), a small-time hustler Randal Hendricks (Irshaad Ally) borrows a significant sum of money from a loan shark, Emmie (Danny Ross), with the plan to buy drugs and turn a healthy profit.
Skip to “months later” – as per the caption on the screen – and Randal is in a wheelchair, and his sidekick is dead. Obviously, things went horribly wrong… and they’re about to get a whole lot worse.
Girlfriend Pam (Monique Rockman, who can also be seen in supernatural crime procedural Die Spreeus on Showmax and DStv Now) and friend Warren (Ephram Gordon) awkwardly carry Randal and his wheels up several flights of stairs to their flat, which it seems unlikely he will ever leave again.
In an effort to ease the situation, Pam gives Randal a pair of binoculars, which he uses to spy – there’s no way to sugar coat it – on his neighbours.
Of course, when you snoop in other people’s business, you’re often going to discover things you’d rather not, or really shouldn’t, know.
But wait – even though it’s months later, creepy Emmie has zero sympathy for Randal and his disability; he wants his money back. So when Randal sees a large bag of cash followed by a murder in the flat opposite his, he begins to formulate a plan to save himself, and Pam. As long as there is life, there is always hope, to escape, to build a better life somewhere else.
“We’ll never be rich, Randal,” says Pam, “but we’ll be happy.”
Thing is, it’s never a good idea to attempt to blackmail one of the most powerful gangsters in the ‘hood – Lawyer, chillingly played by David Manuel (Noem My Skollie) – and complications ensue.
The only African movie in competition at SXSW in 2018, Nommer 37 went on to win Best Director at Fantasia and Best Editor at the SAFTAs, among other accolades.
Local audiences will appreciate it on their homegrown level, and the illustration of all the brutality of the Flats – the desperation, poverty, gangsters, fear, guns, blood, violence, police corruption – and the difficulties residents face, every single day, but Nommer 37 rises above and beyond its geography and context to international acclaim.
The Los Angeles Times called it “a gripping, well-constructed thriller”; Variety said: “richly satisfying… a singularly crafty and strikingly well-crafted thriller that signals the arrival of a promising filmmaking talent”.
Dumisa, who is currently working on Netflix’s second African original series, Blood & Water, shows all the signs of a brilliant film maker, ramping up the tension and holding it there at near-breaking point all the way to the very end, while eliciting gut-wrenching performances from her cast.