Oscar 2008: Jerusalema from South Africa

JERUSALEMA, the South African entry for the Best Foreign-Language Oscar, is the the tale of a self-made Sowetan entrepreneur climbing the Hillbrow criminal underworld ladder one rung at a time.

All Lucky Kunene ever wanted was a BMW seven series and a house with a sea view. But born into a poor family in Soweto in the dying years of Apartheid, the odds were stacked against him.

Working a menial job was never an option for this ambitious, talented and impatient young man. To Kunene and the township kids of his generation, battling the police was a badge of honor, and being arrested was an everyday reality.

JERUSALEMA tracks the rise of Kunene from petty criminal to powerful crime boss. From the heady, optimistic days at the end of apartheid, to the devastated, crime ridden inner city of contemporary Johannesburg.

But like all things in South Africa, nothing is always as simple as it appears. Carjacking is “affirmative repossession” and taking over high rise buildings by force and intimidation is a kind of freelance “land redistribution.”

By setting himself up as “The Hoodlum of Hillbrow,” a hero of the people, Kunene blurs the lines between good and evil, theft and restitution, thugs and heroes. To quote his hero, Karl Marx, “all property is theft.”

JERUSALEMA takes an unwavering and blisteringly stylized look into the crime, corruption, and transgressions of the new South Africa.