Max and Mona, 2004

During the introductory remarks for Max and Mona, filmmaker Teddy Mattera indicated that the inspiration for the film came from two parallel thoughts: a romanticization of death stemming from the traditional belief that the souls of the recently deceased are not able to cross over to the spiritual realm unless their passing has been properly grieved on earth, as well as an autobiographical context over his own family’s ancestral heritage as village mourners who were often called upon to assist in funerals (especially for those who left few, if any, surviving relatives). What unexpectedly emerges from this droll and eccentric concoction of interconnected ideas is an idiosyncratically offbeat, charming, if slight comedy that subverts deeply cherished, old-world traditions into a modern-day confidence game – exploiting the resigned certainty of death into a lucrative specialty service of ushering the souls of the all-too-humanly flawed and not-quite-so-virtuous for transcendence into the hereafter. At the heart of the popular (and profitable) enterprise is the naïve, village son and aspiring medical student, Max (Mpho Lovinga), a sensitive young man with a natural ability for turning on the emotional waterworks during funerals… a talent so unparalleled throughout the country that the he has served as the town’s official mourner for several years, and who, in gratitude, has been sponsored by the villagers to go to Johannesburg and fulfill his lifelong dream of studying medicine, enabling him to retire from his ancestral trade. However, when Max is forced to spend the evening at the home of his layabout uncle, Norman (Jerry Mofokeng) after arriving late to the university for matriculation (a delay inadvertently caused by an errant sacrificial goat – the titular Mona – that he has agreed to transport for an upcoming wedding), he is soon forced to once again tap into his former career as a professional mourner in order to set things right. Alternating humor and pathos, over-the-top situations and understated moments of connection and humanity, Max and Mona is a good-natured and delightfully unassuming tale of community, familial obligation, and inescapable destiny.

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