Film Critic: Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
A Million Colours also known as Colors of Heaven is based on the true story of two best friends, who fought the system that tried to separate them, after they shot to fame in 1975 with the release of the South African film e’Lollipop. Muntu Ndebele and Norman Knox didn’t see life in black or white, at a time when the government tried to enforce Apartheid, instead they chose to see A Million Colours.
Andre Pieterse produced e’Lollipop and co-wrote A Million Colours with Canadian director, Peter Bishai. A Million Colours is the sort of sweeping true life epic Bishai has always wanted to direct and this resonates in the filmmaking with complex characters, beautiful cinematography, a magical score, strong production values and attention to detail.
While the story is about Muntu and Norman, the focus is on Muntu, who went from childhood sensation to notorious car thief in a couple of decades. The narrative comes from Norman’s perspective, giving the filmmakers some room for reinterpretation and dramatic embellishment for added entertainment value. This creates space for film moments – but also detracts from the piece, making it seem a little contrived at times as if Muntu were telling his grandchildren of his real-life adventures.
It’s refreshing to see a South African film that has cast up-and-coming local actors, instead of sourcing overseas talent. Wandile Molebatsi has had a fantastic year, starring in Skeem, appearing in Machine Gun Preacher and delivering another fine lead performance as Muntu in A Million Colours. The role required an actor who could balance a troubled yet likable character, and Molebatsi has delivered an astonishing performance portraying the character of Muntu through the ages.
Molebatsi’s supported by Jason Hartman, Masello Motana and Stelio Savante. Hartman has shades of the late Heath Ledger and little on-screen time to work with, but manages to grapple with Norman’s precarious disposition. The beautiful Masello Motana delivers a promising performance as Muntu’s recurring love interest and childhood sweetheart, Sabelo. While Savante’s experience shines through, adding weight to the ensemble as the dubious Major Shawn Dixon.
A Million Colours is an epic and exhilarating South African drama that journeys with its characters through some of South Africa’s darkest days, following Sharpeville and the Soweto student uprisings and leading to Nelson Mandela’s inauguration. The story is layered with cultural diversity, socio-political agenda, ethical dilemma, racial inequality and follows an array of complex characters, who are each forced to make difficult decisions in an unforgiving climate of racial tension.
The sprawling narrative infuses elements of adventure, crime and romance into this quality production and while the drama is a little slow at times, it remains compelling. At two hours, it still feels like there’s more to explore and perhaps A Million Colours would have been better served as a mini-series. Pieterse and Bishai could have developed the characters, expanded on the story and drawn more emotional investment from the audience by allowing the chronicle to unfurl from Muntu’s perspective. While there’s some distance in using this framing device, it does serve the story by keeping us on our toes in the close altercations.
All in all, A Million Colours is a beautiful, moving and soul-searching drama, based on an amazing true story of love, luck and friendship, lifted by committed performances from an up-and-coming cast and composed by a passionate team of filmmakers.
‘A Million Colours’ review was first published at SPL!NG.