Nommer 37 is an Afrikaans language homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, borrowing and re-imagining the concept at the heart of the classic thriller. Transplanting the scenario in modern day Cape Town, Nosipho Dumisa’s directorial debut essentially gives Rear Window a brand-new identity and a much grittier edge.
Nommer 37 is based on the short film of the same name, which has been stretched into a feature film. The story follows Randal Hendricks, a man adjusting to his new paraplegic status in a wheelchair, housebound in a block of flats. After receiving a pair of binoculars as a gift and witnessing a crime, Hendricks tries to outmanoeuvre his loan shark with the help of his devoted girlfriend, Pam.
Set in a fictional Cape Flats area, Nommer 37 is an artistic, pulsating and tightly-wound thriller that leverages its gangland environment to good effect. Hitchcock’s voyeuristic thriller featured Jimmy Stewart as an every-man in a middle-class apartment block, alongside the picture perfect Grace Kelly. Nommer 37 changes the vantage point culturally and economically, bringing Cape Town’s diversity and socio-economic issues into play. While distinctly different, it’s a natural fit, which actually seems more authentic and plausible in terms of setting than the original.
Instead of Jimmy Stewart, we have Irshaad Ally as Randal, a tough, handsome and likable actor who is best known for his roles in Four Corners and Homeland. Ally is supported by Monique Rockman, a bold and beautiful actress with strong screen presence, the result of an inspired casting decision. While the co-leads make a formidable pairing and deliver solid performances, the ensemble is further bolstered by David Manuel and Sandi Schultz, who were both strong in Noem My Skollie, as well as new-kid-on-the-block Ephraim Gordon and Deon Lotz, who seems to be South Africa’s go-to detective. Manuel is good here, but not quite as intimidating from a distance, Gordon has plenty of spunk, while Schultz and Lotz come into play much later in the game.
“I see a bad moon a-rising…”
An earnest Ally and Rockman test the bounds of their relationship and trust in a fairly claustrophobic apartment. Paraplegic with no sign of recovery, the film revels in its dramatic subtext as a couple deal with coping mechanisms around the onset of a disability. While stuck in the middle of a desperate waiting game with his loan shark, Randal has to deal with the death of his friend, which remains a mystery, being wheelchair-bound up a few flights of stairs and toying with the patience of a vicious and well-connected gangster. The swirling narrative, driving soundtrack, foreboding colour scheme and gangland grittiness keep the atmosphere taut, following a similar pattern to Rear Window in terms of storytelling. The money angle gives the Rear Window concept more bite as the stakes are raised from being discovered as a peeping tom to repaying an unscrupulous loan shark or facing inevitable bloodshed.
Not surprisingly, the majority of the film takes place in nommer 37 with the binocular perspective leading us into the block of flats opposite Randal’s building. Much like Rear Window, there’s a naive stage production feel to these long-to-medium shots that have to carry without much in the way of dialogue. Dumisa uses Hitchcock’s devices, adding some of her own ingredients to the mix, making it recognisable yet refreshingly different. The cinematography by Zenn van Zyl, who worked on the original short and is known for Noem my Skollie, is quite elegant and exceptional in close quarters… bringing the apartment to life. While a bit difficult to address the flat-on windows of an apartment block with much flair, the visuals are always dynamic and urgent.
Nommer 37 is a sharp and heart-pounding thriller, which while infrequently violent remains intense and unsettling. The gritty treatment and socio-economic currency is reminiscent of Brazilian crime drama thrillers, contrasting beautifully photographed visuals with crime-riddled, impoverished communities. While Dumisa’s film parallels Rear Window, it’s a refreshingly different and modern twist to one of Hitchcock’s best… a tense, fascinating and smart update. While entertaining and enthralling even, the film does encounter several plot holes and probably tries a bit too hard to set the scene with an dissonant introduction. Some modern gangster affectations and a few timing issues aside, Nommer 37 makes itself necessary thanks to a clever overhaul, solid performances, taut drama and serves as a promising tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic.
Nommer 37 is film dynamite, visceral, inspired and impassioned enough to skim over its flaws with a refreshed film concept, complex environment and taut atmosphere. It’s got spirit, street smarts and fire – operating beyond its means and brimming with talent.
The bottom line: Pulsating