Exciting News: Breathe – Umphefumlo will be broadcast on Arte in Europe during February 2017. It will be part of Berlinale Focus on Arte. Exact dates and screening times to be confirmed

Students Mimi and Lungelo fall in love and dream of a future together. But their happiness is tested to the full: their daily lives, and those of their fellow students, are defined by the struggle for food, accommodation and medical treatment. Mimi’s need is especially great because she is suffering from tuberculosis, something she at first conceals. When her condition worsens, she breaks up with Lungelo but finds a friend she can rely upon in Zoleka. Mark Dornford-May won the Golden Bear in 2005 for U-Carmen, his adaptation of George Bizet’s opera ‘Carmen’. Now he has worked with U-Carmen‘s star, Pauline Malefane Giacomo, to adapt Puccini’s opera ‘La Bohème’ for the cinema. Together with Mandisi Dyantis, Malefane has undertaken the musical direction, as well as playing the role of Zoleka.
The action has been transposed from 19th century Paris to present-day South Africa. Puccini’s Christmas celebrations have become the national public holiday on 16 June which commemorates the victims of the massacre carried out in 1976 by the Apartheid regime against Soweto schoolchildren. Musicians from the renowned Isango Ensemble play and sing in the Xhosa language.


Mark Dornford-May


Pauline Malefane
Sifiso Lupuzi
Mhlekazi (Wha Wha) Mosiea
Busisiwe Ngejane
Luvo Rasemeni
Zebulon (Katlego) Mmusi
Ayanda Eleki
Zamile Gantana

‘The end result is simply stunning. It’s an inspired choice to reimagine Puccini’s opera in Khayelitsha, a township where living standards today are probably on par with those of the poor in 19th century Paris. South Africa currently has the highest TB incidence in the world and more than 50,000 people die from tuberculosis every year. BREATHE UMPHEFUMLO is also beautifully shot. Matthys Mocke’s camerawork perfectly contrasts the austere, clinical beauty of the university with the chaos of life outside in the township. This is a courageous and imaginative retelling of a classic tale that is both poignant and entertaining.’

Cine Vue

‘Next up on my viewing agenda was a modern day retelling of Puccini’s La Boheme, set in a South African township titled Breathe Umphefumlo. Wow, you say? Wow, I thought, indeed. Apart from the power that music can have over a person, that undeniable get-in-your-bones instinctive, guttural reaction you get when you hear a song that makes you happy, or sad, the concept of a theater company recreating and reinventing Giacomo Puccini’s opera, transporting it to Khayelitsha with a libretto in Xhosa, seemed phenomenal. And it was.

Again, that leitmotif of reinventing something, making it new, but also making it personal. This is what director Mark Dornford-May (U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha, 2005) managed, with the help of the Isango Ensemble. Oh, and as unforgettable as the performances, the music and the film’s sultry cinematography are, what I left the theater with was a brand new awareness of how we’re playing with fire when we don’t pay enough attention to the health crisis of our fellow humans. TB, though easily dismissed as a “poor person’s disease” can hit very close to home. These days, in our globally connected world, diseases are no longer class exclusive and undermining them will only bring on doom and gloom.’

Huffington Post

‘BREATHE UMPHEFUMLO is classily executed, with its highly charismatic and accomplished leads. Like Dornford-May’s Bizet, this is a vivid, ingenious, cultural-political appropriation of the European opera tradition.’

Huffington Post

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