Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You.

Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese
2019

10.02.2019 19:00 Eng. subtitles CineStar 8
11.02.2019 21:30 Eng. subtitles CinemaxX 4
14.02.2019 16:30 Eng. subtitles Delphi Filmpalast
16.02.2019 19:15 Eng. subtitles CineStar 8

76 min. English.

The people on the dusty streets of Lesotho stare inquisitively at the young woman, who, like Jesus, carries a wooden cross on her back. She looks back into their faces, at mystically beautiful landscapes, a herd of sheep, and a pair of hands that knit unceasingly. What she sees is rendered more visually precise by the black and white, more abstract by the slowed-down images, it is filtered through memories. A raw voice-over – aware that it is not being heard by those being addressed – structures the flow of images into a cinematic lament. In this essay film, Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese succeeds in creating the chronicle of a radicalising sorrow, which steadily increases in scope from a personal farewell to the mother to a politically aware defection from the motherland. The painful process of shifting from an internal view of the small African country to an external one is visualised and commented on in a profoundly personal way – from the perspective of today, in exile, in Berlin. A pretty angel accompanies the passage. In intense, aching fashion, this unusual lament on an African story of migration sheds light on an realm of experience that is taboo and not only in cinema. (Dorothee Wenner)

Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese was born in 1980 and raised in Lesotho. In 2011, Mosese participated in the Berlinale Talent Campus. He lives in Lesotho and Berlin. Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You is his first feature-length film.

Conversation with Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese: “I began to visualise my screams”

Dorothee Wenner: Your film begins with images of a lush, mysterious landscape in black and white, then the story shifts to a more urban, probably African environment. Why is it that we, as the audience, get only a vague idea of where your film is set? 

Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese: The film could be set anywhere, it could be set in Paris just as well as in a village near Beirut. It speaks about people who live on the margins of a society that is new to them, but who do not yet really belong there. It is about people who love and simultaneously despise their homeland.

As a white European, I was left deeply moved by your film. It almost felt as if a friend had confessed something to me or entrusted me with a secret. This impression no doubt comes from it being a very personal film about a difficult topic. And yet we do not see you in the film, we see a young woman who carries a cross, like Jesus. Who is she, who does she ‘embody’, how does she relate to you? 

Working on this film had a suffocating effect on my soul, it is born from a place in which love and rage lie close together. In my previous work, I upheld a god-like image of my country and of the African continent in general. But with this film, I revolted. I point an accusatory finger at my ‘mother’. I am both judge and jury. It is extremely painful to go against oneself and one’s ideals, but I had to burn this house down and look at Africa as an outsider. What is horrible is that I am talking about my ‘mother’.
The woman carrying the cross embodies the homeland; a woman in the marketplace, a migrant – she could be anyone. She could even be you, a white European, carrying the burdens and horrors of your forefathers, rebelling against an identity that was imposed upon you.

You call your film a ‘lament’. What does this musical term mean to you, or to the film’s structure and tonality? 

When I first conceived the idea for this film, I had an urge to scream from the rooftops and blame the whole world for the state of our nation. I began to visualise my screams, to translate them into images and words. When I was finished, it felt like the sobbing of a desperate human. That is why I called the film ‘my lament’. 

The cross, the sheep, the blood, the angel: on a visual level, there are many Christian symbols, often depicted very beautifully. The narrative, on the other hand, refers to theme of religion with bitterness, if not even stronger sentiments. Why does religion play such a pivotal role for the protagonist of your film? 

I would not speak of bitterness, I would rather call it ‘distance’. The way I see it, religion resembles – at least in some aspects – the digital revolution of our age. The latter, on the one hand, is one of the best things that ever happened to humanity, and yet it can cause or unleash terrible things. The same is true of religion. I have seen how faith in God has helped wretched people develop into incredibly impressive personalities. But I have also experienced the opposite and witnessed how unspeakable crimes were committed in the name of God, turning beautiful souls into monsters. 

You now live in Berlin, just like your film’s narrator. To what extent did the experience of living in exile inspire this film? 

Yes, I move between Lesotho, South Africa and Berlin, where I currently live. Living in Berlin as a foreigner inspired me to look at my ‘mother’ with a different pair of eyes. I see and understand her anew.

Your film is addressed to the ‘mother’, who will never see it or hear its lament. This is also a source of the pain that the film is about. While working on MOTHER, I AM SUFFOCATING. THIS IS MY LAST FILM ABOUT YOU, did you nevertheless conceive the ‘mother’ as your audience? And if not her, then whom?

I am grateful to be able to show my film at the International Forum of the Berlin Film Festival. It is a dream come true. But at the same time it makes me very uneasy to know that I am entertaining a predominantly white audience by speaking ill of my ‘mother’. And yes, while making this film I was very much aware that it would most likely be seen in this part of the world first. 

Your film has a very elaborate sound design, which is particularly noticeable in the quieter sequences. Conversely, the reading of the ‘letter’ in voice-over sounds as if the voice had been recorded on an old-fashioned tape recorder – it sounds rough, almost private. 

This monologue was recorded on a simple voice recorded during a session in the editing room. Most parts are taken straight from my private texts. I used the voice recorder because I wanted the monologue to sound like a private conversation, since these are real stories and thoughts. I wanted to convey this dimension of the film as authentically as possible. 

Lesotho currently has hardly any cinema infrastructure to speak of. As such, it is unsurprising that you had to teach yourself filmmaking. By now, you have made two short films since 2014, which were widely screened at festivals. A second feature-length film is already in development. What initially led you to film and cinema? And how did you train yourself to be a filmmaker? 

At about the age of five, I started to frequently visit an abandoned building near my parents’ house. The building was located in one of my hometown’s roughest neighbourhoods. At night, junkies, criminals and sex workers would hang around there. It was an underworld scenery. During the day, the building was cleaned up and one of the halls was used for the screening of mostly American films. I cannot remember the exact circumstances, just that it was not a very good projection. I visited this place frequently and with almost religious zeal. I would watch lots of movies there and I would later recount their stories to my friends at school. I would often invent new characters. Later, I started to build film projection devices using milk boxes and rolls from old cash registers. For these self-constructed contraptions, I started making my first ‘animated films’. Other students gathered around me as I turned the roll full of my action figure drawings. The more I practised, the more I was able to flex the muscles of my imagination. 
Of course, I kept going to the cinema. If I did not have enough money to pay for a ticket, I would go nonetheless and listen to the film from outside, in the foyer, trying to imagine what was being shown on the screen that I could not see. This experience filled me with joy, even though it was of course torture to not be allowed inside. I remember that sometimes I only had a few coins, not enough to pay for the ticket. Sometimes the cashier would let me in after the start, granting me the amount of film time equivalent to the value of the few coins I had. Once, a petty criminal called Jimmy was gambling near the cinema. He asked for my coins and promised that he would pay my entrance fee if he won. He lost the game, and I lost my ticket. But for some reason he felt sorry for me. He grabbed me and tried to force his way into the cinema, while I was hanging from his shoulders. The security guard tried to fight with him, while others pulled at me. I eventually made it into the hall, but he did not. Some years later, Jimmy was shot. He is one of the people who are mentioned in my film. 
When I was older, I watched PLATOON by Oliver Stone. I remember that film because at that point I was already determined to become a filmmaker. I made my very first film, a feature, with no money at all. At the time, I did not know that shorts existed, so making a feature-length film was my only option. The final result was an amateur film that I never showed to anyone. But making it taught me everything about filmmaking.

(Interview: Dorothee Wenner, January 2019)

Production Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese. Production company Mokoari collective (Maseru, Lesotho). Written and directed by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese. Cinematography Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese. Editing Mashabushabu Mosese, Arata Mori. Music Guy James Cohen. Sound design Guy James Cohen. Sound Phillip Leteka. Production design Jerry Mohlakoana. Costumes Mojera Mojera. Make-up Molimo o Mocha, Mercy Koetle. With Thato Khobotle (A woman carrying a cross), Mercy Koetle (Mother), Pheku Lisema (Blind walker), Molibeli Mokake (Butcher), Tsohle Mojati (Blind man), Napo Kalebe (Doris the Beautiful). Narrator Sivan Ben Yishai.

World Sales Stray Dogs
Premiere February 10, 2019, Forum

Films

2014: Mosonngoa / Mocked One. 2015: Behemoth or the Game of God. 2019: Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You.

Photo: © Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese