As it nears its 10th anniversary, South African film Colors of Heaven is finding new life with current distribution on Amazon Prime after an extended Netflix run and collaboration with indie distributor Gravitas Ventures.
Winner of two South African Academy Awards, Colors of Heaven is based on a true story of struggle and faith. It tells the story of Muntu Ndebele (Wandile Molebatsi, Chappie, Machine Gun Preacher), once South Africa's most celebrated actor who, in the aftermath of 1975's Soweto student uprising, struggles to survive apartheid and find redemption. A beautifully shot film, Colors of Heaven is layered in cultural complexity as it brings to light the struggle of a nation and its peoples for freedom, friendship, love, and redemption.
Molebatsi is mesmerizing here, an immensely charismatic actor who practically immerses us in Ndebele's at times horrifying journey for which harrowing is not too strong of a word. With hints of Slumdog Millionaire and City of God, co-writer and director Peter Bishai doesn't flinch in telling difficult truths but refuses to allow this story to be defined by its powerful tragedies. Freedom is seldom easily won and there's nothing that unfolds in Colors of Heaven that comes easy for anyone involved.
Colors of Heaven premiered at Montreal Film Festival while also screening at AFI Silver, Pan African, and Hollywood Black Film Festival among others. The film enjoyed a theatrical release in South Africa and had an initial two-year Netflix release before its current time on Amazon Prime. At times, Colors of Heaven is a difficult film to watch and yet it's disappointing that one of South Africa's finest films has largely flown under the radar here in the U.S.
The film also features a wonderful Jason Hartman as Norman Knox, a longtime white friend of Muntu's and award-winning co-star of the classic E'Lollipop who begins to pay a heavy price for that friendship, and an equally marvelous Masello Motana as Sabela, the young woman for whom Muntu bears a longtime affection that is seemingly resisted at every corner.
Matshepo Maleme picked up the Best Supporting Actress prize in the South African Film & Television Awards while Trevor A. Brown took home the Best Cinematography prize. Indeed, Brown's lensing for the film is absolutely one of the film's true highlights with camera work that vacillates between haunting and inspirational and back again. Brown masterfully captures both the intimacy and universality of this story.
The film also features an appearance from one of my faves, South African Stelio Savante, who seems to show up in just about every indie film I review.
There's no question that Colors of Heaven is one of the best films to come out of South Africa, and upon its original release in 2011 may very well have been the best, and it's a terrific opportunity to catch it for yourself on Amazon Prime. You can watch the film for free, with ads, by clicking on the "Watch on Prime" link in this page's credits.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic