Max and Mona is a post-apartheid South African comedy. Set in and around the country’s industrial capital Johannesburg, it revolves around young Max Bua (Mpho Lovingo), the village mourner of a small, provincial town who, despite inheriting his grandfather’s unique talent for making people cry at funerals, wants to pursue a medical degree in the big city.
The problem is, he is (accidentally) saddled with the village’s sacred goat (Mona), and some nasty debts incurred by Max’s colorful but not terribly responsible Uncle Norman (played by the late Jerry Mofokeng in his last role). Between trying to safeguard the goat, and keeping his uncle safe from gangsters trying to collect on their chits (as well as from Norman’s own lack of judgment), Max is forced to temporarily abandon his medical ambitions and use his talent as a professional mourner at township (and occasionally suburban) funerals.
What follows makes life in the township and in Johannesburg’s inner city (abandoned by high-end businesses and whites) come alive on screen, as Max’s new and lucrative business puts him in cahoots with a cadaverous white funeral director and his transvestite mortician son, as well as an attractive neighbor of Uncle Norman’s.
First-time director Teddy Mattera (son of the acclaimed poet Don) has said that one of his reasons for making the film was the dearth of comedy made by and geared towards the majority black population. “The comedy in this country has always been made by white people where they laugh at black people…So I thought it would be a challenge to write a story where we would be laughing at ourselves.” What Mattera has achieved is a gentle comedy that finds laughs in tears, mixing the profane, the sacred, and the fantastical to create a feel-good fable.
[ Sean Jacobs byline ]
Sean Jacobs is assistant professor of communication studies and Afro American and African Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is a native of South Africa.