By Victoria Alexander
A charming tale of first-time bank robbers highlighting the yearly festival of South Africa.
At first I thought THE UMBRELLA MEN was a film about the several candidates rumored to have been the man who brought an umbrella to the JFK assassination. The man opened an umbrella exactly at the moment President Kennedy’s motorcade passed him by. The conspiracy theorists suggested that the "Umbrella Man” may have been the signaler, opening his umbrella to signal "go ahead" and then raising it to communicate "fire a second round" to other gunmen.
Bob Culter in his book, The Day of the Umbrella Man, named my dear friend, now deceased, Gordon Novel, instead of 53-year-old Louis A. Witt, the person identified by the House Assassination Hearings. But who was the person The Umbrella Man sat down next to, the “Dark Complected Man”? Gordon always said he was not in Dallas but aboard Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi’s yacht along with guest Elizabeth Taylor. I maintain another theory – solely my own - regarding Gordon’s role in the JFK Assassination.
The Africa continent is made up of 54 countries. I have been to seventeen of the countries, hoping to eventually make it to the others. I have trekked and camped through many of the countries. I love Africa and it’s highly diverse peoples. I was thrilled to see that THE UMBRELLA MEN takes place in South Africa during their annual Cape Town Minstrel Carnival, the Kaapse Klopse.
Prodigal son Jerome Adams (Jaques De Silva) returns to Cape Malay to attend his father’s funeral. He is surprised to learn that he is now the owner of his family’s Goema Club, a minstrel landmark and the home to The Umbrella Men, the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival band. Goema has been terribly mismanaged and is in serious default to a local bank. Aunty Valerie (June van Merch) is Malay’s matriarch but doesn’t have a clue how to save the club. The club owes one million rand (approximately $54,000) and no one has that kind of money lying around, except the family’s nemesis, led by Tariq (Abduragman Adams), who sees the club’s real estate more valuable than its historic place celebrating the unique music of the past’s enslaved people.
The local bank refuses to give Jerome an extension on the loan, so gathering his friends together, a plan is devised to rob the bank. It happens that Keisha (Shamilla Miller), the girlfriend Jerome unceremoniously left behind, is working for the bank’s president, Mr. El Fontein (Daniel Barnett), a man without respect for her and the community he serves.
Jerome does not tell Keisha his plan but soon she understands and helps with the operational details, an important aspect that is necessary for its success.
It’s an ambitious plan, especially since no one has ever robbed anything – no less a bank. Jerome does have one thing in his favor, the annual festival, the Kaapse Klopse. As many as 13,000 minstrels take to the streets garbed in bright colors, carrying decorative umbrellas and playing an array of musical instruments. The minstrel troupes are fiercely competitive. The festival preparations with the elaborate costumes and musical performances are kept secret until the big day. The parade, if Jerome’s team can time the tunneling and extraction of the contents of the safety deposit boxes, will hopefully obscure the noise of the robbery.
This heist has no “what if” Plan B in place and the group descends into a quarreling disarray as the newly minted criminals attempt to succeed at pulling off a sophisticated bank robbery.
They were just one idea away from a GoFundMe for the drilling equipment for the job.
Just like no one wanted to be called Mr. Pink in RESERVOIR DOGS, the Umbrella Men suddenly complain about their designated roles once inside the bank vault.
Jerome enlists his best friend Mortimer (Keenan Arrison) and feisty Mila (Bronté Snell) to join the other members on the heist.
The film references the slave past of colonial Cape Town that gave birth to the festival. Yet the emphasis is on the buoyancy and determination of the community, the cultural rites and the celebration of the music and dance that grew out of the peoples’ hard won freedom from oppression.
There is no heavy-handed social injustice theme here. It’s about the ritual, the culture and especially the music. While not ignoring the oppression that the country’s black people experienced, it’s a joy to see South Africa’s daily life represented in a charming way while it is a tale of incompetent bank robbers.
Most pleasurable for me was the arguing and calamity of the first-time robbers. Complicated bank robberies should never run smoothly.
An African safari is a must, but THE UMBRELLA MEN makes a terrific showcase for checking out the vibrant, celebratory festivals.
“The ALL is Mind; The Universe is Mental.”
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