Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2016 6:32 pm 
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A choice between traditional culture and individual service

In Nakom,a talented Ghana medical student, Iddrisu (the splendid Jacob Ayanaba) is forced by his father's death to return to his tiny, primitive farming village and has choose between returning to finish his education and pursue an urban medical career and remaining to for his family's survival.

There is something splendidly open and bright about this film from the start, with its wide aspect ratio, teeming images of the urban Kumasi, university campus, city streets, and then the wide flat landscapes of the farm. Once Iddrisu is back home, he's immediately plunged into family problems His mother (Justina Kulidu) isn't speaking to his father's second wife (Shetu Musah); his sister Damata (Grace Ayariga) resents that there's not enough family money to continue her own studies. His younger brother Kamal (Abdul Aziz) is lazy and has gotten a relative pregnant. The family property may fall into the hands Iddrisu's better off, more prestigious o Uncle Napoleon (Thomas Kulidu), whom his father borrowed money from after a bad crop year.

Iddrisu handles everything justly, wielding authority with sureness and tact. He arranges to have his scholarship suspended so he can spend a year away from his studies, and we follow as he takes change -- but always with the recurring question: Is this role more important than the life he led studying medicine (which he goes on studying in his spare time)? Is he indispensable now? These questions give urgency to events that are fascinating in themselves. (This story is a little like the middle panel of Satyagit Ray's Apu Trilogy.)

Reviewing the film at the time of its Berlinale premiere in Variety , Dennis Harvey noted that this second feature for U.S.-based co-directors Kelly Daniela Norris and TW Pittman (following their 2013 Sombras de Azul, shot in Cuba) fortunately lacks the outside-looking-in feel of similar international co-productions. "There's an air of authenticity" he wrote, "as well as a pleasingly laid-back yet substantive narrative engagement to this polished effort." That says it all. The action in another New Directors film, Raam Redy's Thithi, makes equally fluent use of a primitive rural setting and a large cast of non-actors, but there is more polish here, and a unifying focus on the tall, lean Jacob Ayanaba, whose face can go from old to young, infinitely sad to bright and happy.

Nakom, 90 mins., debuted at the Berlinale 15 Feb. 2016; it's US debut is in the New Directors/New Films series in NYC put on by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, where it shows 18 Mar. Viewed for this review at a press screening at Lincoln Center 1 Mar.

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