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Made in 1988, when thieves were considered less of a threat to South Africa’s public order than nonviolent protesters, Mapantsula is the tale of a man suspected of making the transition from gangster—which is roughly what the title means—to revolutionary. The man, called Panic (played by co-writer, casting director, and second-unit director Thomas Mogotlane), doesn’t seem the type. In a series of brief flashbacks, we see him snatch purses, smash windows, hustle women, and ingeniously shoplift a suit. Yet the police believe the Soweto resident has turned from petty thief to major threat, and in the interrogation and torture sequences that frame the memories, an imperious cop tries to force Panic to confess. Apartheid is now gone, of course, but Oliver Schmitz’s film remains a vivid reminder of why it had to end.Despite the bleak circumstances, however, the movie’s music is consistently joyous. It screens at 2 p.m. at the S. Dillon Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Drive SW. Free. (202) 633-1000. (Mark Jenkins)