Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 20, 2018 2:13 pm 
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Picaresque ramble of a party boy searching for his father

João Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis are some more documentary filmmakers who've turned to a fiction feature based on their own material, and the focus of their last non-fiction effort, a young man of Cape Verdean origins born in Portugal. There are several classic themes wrapped up in this easy-going movie, which is more on atmosphere and the occasional colorful character than interesting plot twists. Yes, this is a bit of a picaresque tale, even an Odyssey - its hero is seduced from time to time by pretty women and intoxicating drink - and he gets seriously sidetracked and relieved of his wallet. Miguel (Miguel Moreira), also known as Djon África (Djon pronounced "John") or Tibars.

He's using electric clippers on the sides in the opening scene, leaving only some thin, stylish dreadlocks, making his look halfway between rasta and rap. Miguel is a big, easygoing school dropout of 25 with jutting lips and big gap teeth, and he's strong to be hired on construction sites, where he makes money he saves up for his first trip to the Cape Verde island archipelago off the West Coast of AFrica, to find his father, whom he's never seen. Even on the plane, in sequence that is half fantasy, he is surrounded by pretty Cape Verdean young women, and freely imbibes grogue, the strong national drink.

This is the pattern, and since he speaks the language and moves freely, Miguel slides right into the sunny world he meets. A big party leads to being fleeced by the pretty ladies, who disappear next morning. Eventually he winds up hired on a ferry boat by a tough old crone puffing a ciggy who keeps an old cow and some goats up in the hills. She hires him to do the work, in exchange for board, but no WC, because there ain't none. There is a gentle magic in these sequences, and they provide an engaging picture of a pleasant place with good-looking people, however crooked the government, as they tell him, may be.

There's no more to it than that. This film was a bit of a disappointment; a little more social history and a good ending might have turned the whole story into something resonant of roots, exile, and pan-African identity, themes lurking here waiting to be teased out.

Written by Pedro Pinho, director of The Nothing Factory, also playing in the New Directors festival.

I wonder if anyone would think of Pedro Costa, of Colossal Youth (SFIFF 2007) and other films, the preeminant film chronicler of Cape Verdeans in Portugal. A darker, more realistic picture comes from him, perhaps.

Djon África, 95 mins., debuted at Rotterdam, Jan. 2018, in the 2018 Hivos Tiger Competition, and bought for international distribution before that by the Paris based Still Moving . It was screened for this review as part of the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center 2018 New Directors/New Films series.

ND/DF showtimes
Wednesday, April 4, 9:15pm [FSLC]
Friday, April 6, 6:00pm [MoMA]


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