Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 21, 2011 1:24 pm 
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In quest of identity, and a fake passport

The Destiny of Lesser Animals (Sibo ne kra, Dabo ne kra), from Ghana, by a director from Philadelphia via the Midwest, is an earnest and well-meaning but unconvincing effort about becoming reconciled to one's homeland. This debut feature follows Boniface Koomsin (Yao B. Nunoo, who wrote the screenplay), a police inspector through a meandering, talky odyssey that starts with trying to leave Ghana and ends with deciding to stay and raise a beggar girl. Boniface was barred from the US for assaulting local police around the time of the 9/11 attacks. He is convinced his future is there, and so a decade later he is planning to return by using an expensive fake passport. Unfortuantely as soon as he picks up the passport it's stolen from him. For the rest of the film he goes looking for it pretending he's lost his police pistol and is in search of that.

When he gets to "where the money is," Accra, he runs into Chief Inspector Oscar Darko (Fred Amungi). Darko is on an armed robbery case and Boniface becomes convinced the perpetrators also nicked his fake passport. This leads the two of them to a casino hostess, Serwah Bimpong (Abena Takyi), but it's a dead end. On the way to the grave of his father, whom he often addresses in voice-over, Boniface runs across a seemingly mute Beggar Girl (Xolasie Mawuenyega) who for some reason fascinates him. Back at the casino, Boniface has a violent confrontation. An attack on an American leads Boniface and Darko back to Serwah, who fingers a drifter named Yaro.

Eventually Boniface confesses to Darko the true nature of his search and Oscar throws him off the assault and robbery case, and later he's evicted from the force. The final scenes show Boniface seeking out the Beggar Girl, who's gone missing, and eventually finding her and taking her home, hoping to send her to school. The outcome of his rambles is that he has decided his mission is to remain in his home country and, presumably, raise some kind of family.

Yao B. Nunoo, the writer/main actor, is handsome and soulful but his screenplay is more well-meaning than successful. We get the idea. His protagonist needs to realize that his place is in Ghana, not the USA. But this detective story turns into a feeble wild goose chase that never makes much sense. It's just a series of red herrings. After all, the investigation Boniface goes on with Chief Inspector Darko is never proven to have anything directly to do with his stolen passport. Besides that, going off his duties to run around looking for a fake passport is not a good idea in the first place. The Beggar Girl has nothing to do with any of this. It's just something for Boniface to focus on when his useless search peters out. The film is a series of one-on-one conversations. Despite some actual running by Boniface/Yao at the outset, there is little variety to the action.

This film is the fruit of a year that director Albright spent in Ghana recently on a Fulbright research grant. Albright is an associate professor of film/media at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. His 2006 short film, The Legend of Black Tom, has played at festivals and won awards. He has also worked in television.

87 min. In Fante, English, Pidgin, Twi, and Ga with English subtitles. The HDCAM cinematography is serviceable and the film provides views of the Ghanan urban landscape.

Seen and reviewed as part of New Directors/New Films, presented March 23-April 3, 2011 by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York.

ND/NF screenings:
2011-04-01 | 9:00 PM | MoMA
2011-04-02 | 6:30 PM | FSLC

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