Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

When Lambs become Lions (2018) | ****

Dir: Jon Kasbe | Doc | US

When you fight to survive in the vast arid plains of East Africa life is tough. In his deeply affecting feature debut, award-winning filmmaker Jon Kasbe (Heartbeats Of Fiji) explores whether human life in Northern Kenya is more valuable than that of endangered species. The subject of poaching is certainly an emotive issue that strongly divides the nation’s inhabitants, many of whom are deeply opposed to the illegal practice on moral grounds. But the lucrative trade goes on.

This is the latest in a series of conservation-themed features that started with Blackfish, The Cove and last year’s Trophy. Stunningly captured on the widescreen and in intimate close-up the film contrasts Kenya’s natural beauty with the less palatable aspects of animal slaughter, that takes place not for food but for trophy hunting. And the animals do not die a quick death but a long, drawn out and painful one due to being inexpertly shot or poisoned with venomous arrows. The film’s atmospheric score adds gravitas to the melancholic episodes where Asan silently contemplates his doubtful future. And these sequences contrast with the high-octane nighttime forays into the bush to locate victims and escape the rangers’ onslaught.

Kasbe’s non-judgemental thriller unspools with a growing dramatic tension as it moves stealthily between the lives of two men: an unlikeable ivory trader (X), and his ranger nemesis Asan, who is also his cousin. The glassy-eyed macho X boasts of making a successful black market business selling ivory. As he swaggers around chain-smoking defiantly and invoking ‘Allah’, he claims not to do the killing himself. Hot on his tracks is Asan and his fellow government employed rangers who are heavily armed with rifles and threaten the poachers with their zero tolerance approach. But rangers have little to gain financially from their work, although many feel sadness for the elephants’ plight. Heavily armed with automatic rifles they also have an axe to grind against the government claiming they have not been paid two months’ wages due to an administrative error. Meanwhile, the poachers make a lucrative living. X’s sidekick Lukas posits the powerful adage “if we do not hunt we will be hunted”. The pressure to earn a pittance is also putting a strain on Asan’s marriage and growing family, and he fears he may have to go back to the petty crime of his youth. 

Although poaching is a blot on the landscape, so is the plight of the people who inhabit this impoverished region. President Uhuru Kenyatta confiscates and burns all illegal ivory stashes claiming – on a television programme – that “ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants”. Meanwhile X and Lukas watch silently desperately wishing they could lay their hands on the truckloads of bounty destined to be destroyed by the government’s crackdown. MT


Flesh Out (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Dir.: Michela Occhipinti; Cast: Verida Deiche, Amal Oumar, Aichetou Najim, Sidi Chiglay; Italy/France 2018; 94 min

Governments in the Western world are desperately urging people to lose weight. Not so in Africa. In her second feature Italian filmmaker Michela Occhipinti (Letters from the Desert) travels to  Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott where it turns out that Islam is at the root of the situation. And once – as in FGM – the matriarchs are in control. Occhipinti uses a non-professional cast to explores the conflict between Verida and a repressive tradition with lyric poeticism.

Young beautician Verida (Deiche) is expected to gain a great deal of weight so she will meet the requirements of her arranged marriage to Amal. Verida’s husband-to-be Amal (Oumar), is well off and drives a Mercedes, the usual car in North Africa. Her best friend, Aichetou (Najim) dreams of going to Cairo, and is proud of her rudimentary English, which includes phrases such as ‘good-bye’ and ‘fuck-off’. Both young women are clearly enjoying their life in the 21st century, and Verida is readying .Bonjour Tristesse’. But three months before the wedding, Verida’s mother Sidi (Chiglay) makes her gain weight, as is customary in the region. The intention is to gain a more imposing stature, and lend gravitas to their new family. Verida is totally against the idea and starts taking pills to counteract the gain – but to no avail. She finally challenges her mother, kicking over a bowl of food. Her mother reacts by taking her off into the desert, where she is force fed a mixture of milk and cereal, the same method for producing foie gras. When Verida spews out the brew, the women force her to eat her own vomit, and Verida’s mother condones their actions. After arguing with Amal, she decides to take charge of her life.

Flesh Out has a languid pace, Occhipinti takes her time introducing the main protagonists. Verida and Aichetou are very close, they daydream and have pillow fights, and although work is the centre of their life, but the family elders think differently, the men’s wishes enforced by the senior women in their community. A worthwhile and well-crafted experience, enlivened by DoP Daria d’Antonio fabulous desert scenes. AS


Hamada (2018) *** IDFA 2018

Dir.: Eloy Dominguez Seren; Documentary; Sweden/Germany/Norway 2018, 88min.

Director-writer Eloy Dominguez Seren (No Cow on the Ice) raises the profile of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in this vibrantly passionate documentary shot mainly in the Tindouf refugee Camp in Algeria.

In 1975, when Franco was on his last legs, Spain gave up some North African colonies, and Morocco (300 000 citizens entered the old colony) and Mauritania claimed the territory. However, they did not concede self-government to the Sahrawis, as they were mandated by the UN. The resulting conflict between Morocco and the refugees in their own country lasted for over forty years, with Morocco bombing the Sahrawis with Napalm in 1976, causing a humanitarian crisis as the homeless and afflicted fled to Algeria.

HAMADA follows teenagers Sidahmed and Zaara in their fruitless search for work in the self-governed camp. Sidemeh is rather a restless young. He makes some money repairing cars and radios but finds the work unsatisfying. He also lacks patience, and efforts to teach Zaara to drive soon run out of steam. He’d really like to emigrate to Spain, like everyone in the camp. But this seems like a pipe-dream and none of the others have managed to get a Visa, and Spain does not recognise the SADR or his passport. Zaara can’t get a stable job either and has no qualifications, although she is certainly better educated than Sidameh, who only knows one European country (Spain). Zaara seems more intelligent.

So Sidameh starts to plan an illegal passage to Spain, with his friend Tasalam. Meanwhile the more down to earth Zaara focuses on a potential marriage partner chatting things through with her friends. Both girls are emancipated, and expect their future husbands to leave them in peace, to live their own lives. Zaara still wants to be taught to drive, seeing this as a vital asset in the job market. Sidameh finally sells his car to finance his passage to Spain. When he eventually sets off, the convoy of cars he is travelling in, gets stuck in the desert. And the grass is far from green when he reaches his destination. Homeless and without any proper qualifications, contacts or viable work skills he seems surprises that he is treated with disdain.  Instead of focuses on his own failings, he blames his racial identity: “people make you feel inferior, just because you are an Arab”. Clearly the grass wasn’t greener. Zaara has a better and more philosophical frame of mind and soon finds this leads her to improve her chances of success. And with the help of her kind friend Tasalam, she even learns to drive.

Seren’s observational study certainly succeeds in bringing this forgotten conflict to our attention, letting the teenagers speak for themselves. The local climate and primitive conditions make life tough and extremely challenging. Sidameh is seen rebuilding a house for a family of eight, whose home has collapsed during the rainy season. Spain becomes a much longed for dream destination and their all obsess about finding this ‘Holy Grail’.  But these down-trodden people also reflect on their past: when one of them finds a fishing rod in an abandoned house, it soon emerges that the Sahrawis once made a living from fishing, before being forced into the central plains of the arid desert. MT


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