Book-To-Film Report: That 'Zulu' That Who Do? (The 2013 Cannes Closing Film Source Material)

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by Tamara Brown
April 12, 2013 11:59 AM
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It was announced this morning that Zulu would be the closing night film at this year's Cannes Film Festival next month. With that in mind, here's a look at the book the film is based on, and how it might translate to the screen. It was posted a year ago, when the project was first announced. NOTE: Forest Whitaker replaced Djimon Hounsou in the film.

After reading Tambay’s post announcing the casting of Djimon Hounsou in an adaptation of Caryl Férey’s critically acclaimed novel, Zulu (found HERE), coupled with a comment that referred to the partnering of Hounsou and Orlando Bloom as “Lethal Weapon IX” (it’s not…really, it isn’t), I decided to read the novel.

As per the synopsis via Amazon.com, and the production the company, the novel mirrors description. The work is a complex and layered who-done-it? that proves to be a page-turner, one most likely will not want to put down.

I was captivated by the tale of lead character, Ali Neuman (most likely Hounsou’s character) from his introduction at the beginning of the work, to the end scene that moved me in such a way as to warrant an act of violence (not) in my own home! I threw the book across the space, sighed, then immediately retrieved it and began reading again.

A Cape Town police office of Zulu origin whose past well informs his present, molds him into a stoic yet shrewd detective who is both feared and loved by enemies and contemporaries alike. Really, to speak more on Neuman would spoil. The man is shrouded in mystery and even the reader is privy to only so much. The reader doesn’t fully understand him until the end of the novel (hence the book tossing).

Brian Epkeen (most likely Bloom’s character) who is an Afrikaner detective, who womanizes and has an ex-wife and son who despise him, is a colleague and friend of Ali. The two (along with another couple of police) work together throughout much of the novel, in tandem and alone, to solve the crime of the two white, female co-eds found brutally murdered.

The tale overall is told from many points of view but premiere narrators are Ali and Brian.

Second-tier characters come into play as the story progresses, as the mystery unfolds, and as new suspects/victims are uncovered. The sudden change of voice with each chapter, and sometimes within chapters, works because the movement of the plot rates and sets the pace of the novel.

It is literally a page-turner that will have you reading well into the night.

When looking at the reviews done by readers on different book-sites, I must say that I am in agreement with them, that this is one of the most violent books I have ever read. But it is a violence-laden tale with truth and reality that is not just some simple conjure of a man with an imagination.

The horrors shown are horrors witnessed throughout history—particularly in this region, in this country, in this continent… and continents abroad (hello slavery!).

But there is a lushness of atmosphere and tone that is granted via the characters’ telling, and the settings as perceived through the narrators’ eyes holds you to it, familiarizes you with the landscape and soon you become a part of it. It is thick with atmosphere, with sweat, smell, light, darkness; it is the jungle inside the confines of a concrete construct.

There are many, many, MANY parallels that can be drawn from the countryside and desert to the modernization of the city and 20th century “civilization” of the people, of the terrain and beyond.

And speaking of modernity, behold the true nature of the novel. Statistics and facts and figures given throughout the text inform both prose and dialogue, align the story and its characters’ investigation with actual truths via facts that expose the AIDS epidemic and fallout from the government’s handling of it, and give insight to the drug-testing done to millions of Africans in the wake of Apartheid, and even before Nelson Mandela was elected into office.

Overall, I think casting will be key; given who is cast as whom, some breakout performances may or may not occur. I will say that I wish to see how the adaptation will handle Brian’s character. Given Bloom’s age, I think it might be hard to fathom him as a man with a grown (twenty-something year-old) son.

Honsou is not who I imagined as Neuman, but he will suffice. I hope he can carry the role and display the nuances of the character as internalized in the text.

Perhaps I pre-protest too much? Still, this has the potential to be a great film. The setting is perfect. The direction (and editing) will be everything—gotta keep up the crazy pace of the work’s rising action. But being able to stay as close to the book as possible (with a couple of minor omissions) will cement this adaptation as more than another typical, crime, mystery, faux-noir tale set in the modernized-tip of the cradle of all civilization.

And to end, a couple of questions:

Have you read this novel? If so, what are your thoughts? Do you look forward to seeing the film? What do you think of the casting, thus far?

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