JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Djon Africa (Directors: João Miller Guerra, Filipa Reis) - September 17, 2018
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Djon Africa

4.5 4.5
96 min.

Reviewed for the 2018 edition of the Calgary International Film Festival.
The freedom of solitude heralds the end of a vicious circle

In a road film that could also have been titled In Search of Lost Mine, the artistic trust (directors João Miller Guerra, Filipa Reis; writers Guerra along with Pedro Pinho), a multitude of societal ills, mores and challenges—in this instance for Africans—but the themes and scenes are universal, which are quietly—at least in terms of dialogue; the music tracks are invigorating and thoughtful as required—brought under the all-seeing scope of a cinematic lens. And most certainly, one of the stars of this production is cinematographer Vasco Viana, who floods the screen with spectacular vistas, close-ups and inventive pans that simultaneously capture the spectacular scenery of Cape Verde, the hustle and bustle of metropolitan Portugal alongside the marvellously expressive visages of the cast who artfully play out this fascinating story.

At the centre of it all is illegal immigrant, Miguel (Miguel Moreira), displaying maturity beyond his years as he determinedly abandons the relative safety of job, girlfriend and loyal granny to search for the father he has never known.

The narrative techniques include visions/dreams (some of those infused by copious amounts of grogue—at times celebrated or cursed by those who imbibe), coincidental meetings (or not?—the closing sequence offers a dramatic tour de force of the “Was that/wasn’t that?” ilk, which should never be resolved), and pointedly—not overtly—political statements out of the mouths of seeming babes: Imagine being called “foreigner” by kids in the land of your birth!

Along the way, Miguel is dutifully robbed, abandoned, loved and disappointed—none of these situations anything but predictable given the genre. One false note comes with his declaration that “school is not for me”—his other comments and thoughts belying anything but an educated status.

It falls to his adoptive, critter-raising, worldly Granny II—”Did you ever eat pussy,” she asks mischievously—to stir the familial pot before disappearing and forcing Miguel to hit the proverbial road again.

Throughout the stops on his journey, Miguel finds solace and comfort in the music—an aural treat on its own—from harmonica to accordion—camaraderie and comfort of various bars where no one really knows his name, but all are soon amigos.

Wondering what/where on earth to do or go next, Miguel receives a phone message that—after not a bit of reflection—decides him. Coming to the wonderful conclusion that he is not my father, the 25-year-old races back to his “illegal” home, intent on not duplicating the mistakes of his absent maker. With “Alleluia” now sounding in the background, that music is the perfect bookend to the opening “find-myself” rap that prophetically states: “Unity [is] the only way to achieve satisfaction.”

We can only hope so. JWR

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