The Vipers of Sophiatown

Back of the Moon

DIFF winner – Best South African Feature Film 2019

Director: Angus Gibson

Cast: Richard Lukunku, Moneoa Monash,Lemogang Tsipa, Israel Matseke-Zulu, Sicelo Dlamini, Siyabonga Thwala

One of the best films I saw at the 40th Durban International Film Festival http://ccadiff.ukzn.ac.za/ was director Angus Gibson’s period gangster film Back of the Moon featuring an all-star South African cast including Lemogang Tsipa (The Eye in the Sky, Beyond the River) as the ruthless gangster Ghost.

Back of the Moon deservedly won Best South African Feature Film at the Durban International Film Festival #DIFF 2019.

Back of the Moon is set in Sophiatown in 1958 as the South African Apartheid government are about to enforce removals of the Sophiatown residents out of the district to Meadowlands which is on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

Director Angus Gibson captures all the brutal essence of a gangster film, with the notorious gang The Vipers causing havoc at the Back of the Moon, while Sophiatown’s local celebrity Eve Msomi glitters as the main act at the more upmarket Casablanca nightclub.

Eve and Badman one Fateful Night

The Vipers gang go behind their leader Badman’s back and unbeknownst to him kidnap Eve as she dazzles the crowd at the Casablanca nightclub on a fateful night. Badman was asleep and woke up to discover his gang taunting Eve. Badman orders the Viper gang to leave but orders Eve to stay. Eve is on the verge of leaving Sophiatown for London to start a new life with her kind manager but as they plan to escape the brutality of Apartheid South Africa in the 1950’s which threatens to strip Sophiatown of its precarious glamour and all that it represents, they inadvertently get caught up in a fateful night they will never forget with Badman and his vicious Viper gang members.

In a wonderful scene between Badman and Eve, he makes her a couple of tea and Eve replies by saying “I didn’t know gangsters make tea.”

Badman has to contest with Eve’s boxer boyfriend while Ghost makes a dangerous bid to control the Vipers. Ghost is brilliantly played by Lemogang Tsipa whose lethal addiction to the gangster life takes its toll on all those around him.

The Viper Gang

Back of the Moon is gorgeously filmed, extremely well-acted and offers a unique and often forgotten snapshot of the half demolished ghetto Sophiatown before it was obliterated from its location while the ambiance and memories of Sophiatown linger on in the collective national psyche filled with elegy and brutality.

Sophiatown in 1958 the scene of Back of the Moon

21st century audiences must view Back of the Moon as a period gangster film, with the femme fatale, the evil gangster and all those caught in between, a sort of South African retro version of director Barry Levinson’s Oscar winning 1991 American gangster film Bugsy starring Warren Beatty, Ben Kingsley and Annette Bening.

Back of the Moon gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is one of the best South African period films about Sophiatown and will surely add to South Africa’s growing and impressive film canon.

Highly recommended viewing but not for sensitive viewers due to some disturbingly violent scenes.

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