You all know the Alfred Hitchcock classic Rear Window? The one with James Stewart and Grace Kelly, where he’s in a wheelchair, with nothing to do but stair out of a window?
Well, South African writer and director Nosipho Dumisa brings us a very up to date and unique take on the same story, set in South Africa, a land not known for taking things easy.
South Africa is hot, dry and extremely violent with a police force that is sometimes as criminal as the criminals themselves. Dumisa taps into that brilliantly, this may not have the unsettling subtleness of Hitchcock, nor the edge of the seat feeling, instead Number 37 brings a no-holds-barred approach to this classic story.
It starts off simple enough as Randal, Irshaad Ally (“Homeland (TV)”, “Finders Keepers”), ends up in a wheelchair after a drug deal has gone bad, his friend having died in the same deal. If that wasn’t bad enough, he borrowed the money for the drug deal from a loan shark friend of his, Emmie, Danny Ross (“Sterlopers (TV)”).
Wheelchair bound and unable to work, Randal struggles to get the money back, but whilst watching from his window with a pair of binoculars his girlfriend Pam, Monique Rockman (“Tussen as en hoop”), bought him, he hits upon an idea.
It would be fair to say Randal’s ideas don’t always go to plan, or ever, and generally end up with someone in pain, besides him, or often worse. When his latest plan involves blackmailing the local thug Lawyer, David Manuel, things don’t look like they’re going to be any better.
Dumisa is unflinching in his approach to the brutality of violence and yet you never feel like it’s done for the sake of it. Dumisa is fantastic with the camera, the small, lurid flat Randall and Pam find themselves in is tiny, Randall’s wheelchair just about being able to move around the rooms.
Dumisa crams us into this space alongside these two, the heat of the South African summer radiating through the screen. Yet, occasionally, he releases us as we soar, high above the rooftops in sweeping shots of the local vicinity, similar looking tenement blocks with corrugated roofs dominate the sandy looking ground.
Whereas Hitchcock kept us cocooned, a film from Stewart’s point of view, here we leave the flat, but only to venture into others in the same block, and only briefly even then.
Irshaad is wonderful as Randal, this isn’t a man trying to play James Stewart, he’s very different, a man with ambitions, with plans, albeit, plans that never work out, well, not always. Irshaad gets angry, sad, beaten up and suspicious and handles the lot with aplomb.
As does his long-suffering girlfriend Rockman, she’s strong willed at times, determined but caught in this place, this situation by love for her man.
In no way could I say this is as good as Rear Window, that would be an unfair comparison to begin with. But, to take something so iconic, so well known, and put your own unique take on it, dare I say, add something to it, is a wonderful start to a writing and directing career.
Take Number 37 as a stand alone film, watch it as such and it is a fantastic, brutal, thriller that will delight.