U-Carmen eKhayelitsha Starring: Pauline Malefane, Andile Tshoni, Lungelwa Blou Director: Mark Dornford-May The film: Mark Dornford-May is not the first film director to adapt Georges Bizet's Carmen for black protagonists - that feat belongs to Otto Preminger, who unfurled the story of passion and death in a working-class African-American community in 1954's Carmen Jones. That he's not the pioneer in moving the story across the cultural gap, however, is of no detriment to U-Carmen eKhayelitsha's power: setting the scenes in the South African township of Khayelitsa in recent times, Dornford-May's film - performed by his theatre co-operative Dimpho di Kimane with a script he co-wrote with Dimpho's Khayelitsa-born actress-singers Pauline Malefane and Andiswa Kedama - infuses the original's amorous fervour with a political edge that reflects vividly the social fault-lines shaping post-apartheid South Africa. Although set in a completely different cultural and linguistic landscape - the musical numbers and dialogue are all delivered in Xhosa - U-Carmen has maintained Bizet's narrative backbone. The new Carmen here (a brilliant turn by Malefane, above right) is still a vivacious cigarette factory worker who is the centre of masculine attention in the town; the menacing soldiers in the original become the bawdy officers of South Africa's police force, and Don Jose comes in the shape of Jongikhaya (Andile Tshoni), whose obsession with Carmen drives him further and further away from his erstwhile religious and righteous way of life. Meanwhile, Carmen's new object of affection is no longer a matador: the heartthrob Lulamile (Zweilungile Sidloyi) is a popular singer. What gives U-Carmen poignancy is how Bizet's theatrical devices carry new symbolic meaning. When Carmen pleads with Jongikhaya to go over to her unseemly world of smugglers and hoodlums - to 'live in liberty', she says - it embodies the population's widespread mistrust of the thuggish disciplinary forces, a remnant of the vehemence ordinary citizens feel towards what was the arm of political repression for the white regime. And Carmen's insistence on freedom even in the face of death also reflects the double oppression that still shackles South African women: that liberation from racial segregation does not necessarily confer sexual emancipation. The extras: A making- of documentary reveals much-needed background information about Dimpho and also the film itself - a product of what the British- born Dornford-May describes as a 'pride and confidence [in] South Africa's own indigenous culture'. Separately conducted extensive interviews with Dornford-May and Malefane allow viewers to understand the project from two perspectives; and Malefane's revelation (to the uninitiated) that she's actually married to the director adds another dimension. The verdict: With its polished performances and edgy energy, U-Carmen is at the same time graceful and riveting, and along with the more mainstream Tsotsi, provides a shining exemplar of modern-day filmmaking from South Africa.