With scorching triple digit temperatures and torrential downpours and being the home to a multitude of deadly wildlife, Africa isn’t the most hospitable place to hold a 220km foot race. Welcome to the Ultra AFRICA Race aka the Furnace: one of the world’s most dangerous annual marathons held in the southern reaches of Mozambique. Now, imagine partaking in this challenging athletic event with severely damaged lung capacity. This is the dramatic undertaking of one woman who has lost everything short of her own life in The Furnace, a story of tremendous courage and perseverance from award-winning filmmaker Darrell Roodt (The Lullaby 2018 – read our review here).
Celebrating Christmas with family, Mary (Jamie Bernadette: read our interview with her here) is given an entry confirmation notice for The Furnace gifted by her newlywed husband. This challenging race is something the couple plan to do together. That is, until tragedy strikes that very night.
In the wake of an accident that takes her husband’s life, leaves her with a damaged lung and a reliance on an oxygen tank, Mary feels as though she has little reason to live. During one of her frequent visits to her lost love’s grave, she expresses her anger with God for leaving her alone with nothing but ruin. And this frustration is overheard by the cemetery grave digger who ironically goes by the nickname Coffin (Luthuli Dlamini: Blood Drive 2017).
Sharing his own story of loss, Coffin explains to Mary why he was forced to leave his medical practice in Africa leading him to America where he now buries the dead in their final resting place. The former medical practitioner helps Mary with her recovery and rehabilitation so that she might rediscover her passion for running. Although ill-advised, Mary takes things a step further by preparing for the race she was meant to run with her husband.
Beautifully shot against the stunning backdrop of Africa, Roodt’s film brings to life a memorable story of faith and empowerment with the help of Bernadette in her most meaningful role to date. Embodying a transformative character arc that moves from distraught and defeated to courageous and determined, Bernadette holds nothing back giving her absolute best to this performance, and it shows. Paired with the authentic kindness displayed onscreen by co-stars Luthuli as Coffin and Laura Linn as Raphaella, one cannot help but get the feels. Although mildly touching on the topic of God, a topic that may be off-putting to some audiences, The Furnace offers the general feeling of hope. And, after the year that was 2020, this is something we all could use.
The Furnace is an all-inspiring story of resolution that’s sure to pull on your heart strings. It’s about overcoming impossible odds and learning how to get back up when life hands you a raw deal. It’s being able to see the light during the darkest times, which is something many of us need now more than ever. Check out this powerful triumphant piece of cinema streaming now on VOD.