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VIFF 2018 Review: Djon Africa

Djon Africa

Djon Africa is about a young man, played by Miguel Moreira, who is searching for his father, but discovers a lot more.

What can I say? Illnesses have a lot to do with why I’ve been late in publishing my blogs from the VIFF. However things have been getting better lately. So I can come back at it.

One thing I like about going to the VIFF is I get the chance to see films that are ‘off the beaten path.’ One of which was the Portuguese film Djon Africa which was a good story to watch.

The film begins with a 25 year-old Portuguese man names Miguel. He works construction during the day and is musician Djon Africa by night. He is a bit of a slacker. He was raised by his grandmother and has family roots in the African island of Cape Verde. However he doesn’t feel at home in Portugal. He’s asked about his father and his grandmother often says ‘a bit of a player and a scoundrel.’  One day he goes clothes shopping with his girlfriend and a storeowner suspects him of shoplifting. Racism?

One day he comes across a good amount of money. He makes the decision to travel to Cape Verde in search of his father. The problem is he has nothing to go with. He doesn’t know what his father’s name is, which town he lives in or who his family is, other than a sister who lives in the capital city of Praia. Nevertheless he is determined. During the flight, Miguel already begins envisioning the Cape Verde he knows nothing about by dreaming of the stewardesses dancing in the aisle.

Then Miguel arrives in Praia, the capital city of Cape Verde. Even as he gets off the plane, he notices how more picturesque Cape Verde is in comparison the Lisbon. The first place he goes to do his search is visit his aunt. Unfortunately he hears the bad news from family in mournful prayer that his aunt has been deceased for a year. He learns the aunt has family in Taffaral, but when he gets there, he learns he’s possibly in the wrong Taffaral; Cape Verde has two Taffarals. To make the search more frustrating, Miguel loses a lot of his belongings after a night of getting intoxicated on Cape Verde’s firewater liquor grogue.

During that time of island-hopping from place to place, he comes across the natives in various ways. He comes across a lot of younger girls who have taken aback with his dreads and even call him ‘Bob Marley.’ He comes across a goat-herder Maria Antonia who impulsively gets him to work her land. He agrees. One can sense that Miguel is losing focus in his search for his father and has started falling in love with the country he never knew. Then he gets a phone call from Portugal. It’s his girlfriend back in Lisbon telling him she’s pregnant. The film ends with one final image of Miguel walking the street.

It’s a common story to see sons search for their father. We see it time and time again. However this does have its own way of telling the story. The biggest ingredient is the land of Cape Verde and the people themselves. The people that Miguel come across, the places that he visits, they make for Miguel’s time here and are key to changing him as a person. It’s even people like the farmer who teach Miguel to be responsible. The meeting face-to-face with his father doesn’t happen, but I believe it was the intention of the film to be a lot more than that.

One thing about the film is that it gives a lot of charming images of Cape Verde: of the people, of daily life, of the geography. All of which play a role as it is part of Miguel’s experience in Cape Verde as he tries to find his father. During the time he learns a lot about where his father comes from even though he hasn’t met him face to face. Miguel even learns more about himself.

SPOILER WARNING: DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING: The ending where you see Miguel walking down the street will get you wondering. Especially since it’s after his girlfriend calls Miguel to let his know she’s pregnant. Sure, we simply see Miguel walking down the street, but it does get you wondering. Will Miguel be like his father that he decides to stay in Cape Verde? Miguel has sure come to embrace the island. Also that image where Miguel walks down and an older man in dreads looks back: possibly his father. It may give you the idea that the two may meet someday soon. Maybe it’s best that the movie end there, with the two not meeting and with it being unclear Miguel will return to Portugal for his girlfriend. They say film should leave people asking questions instead of getting answers.

Top notes go to directors Joao Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis. The personal couple are most experienced in making documentaries and short films. Here you can sense that the story is told documentary-style as Miguel learns something new every day and grows as a person. Also worth admiring is the performance of Miguel Moreira. He doesn’t do any over-the-top drama in his acting. His acting is all about growing inside as a person, and we see that in the film. Also deserving high recommendation is cinematographer Vasco Viana. The images of the geography of the land and the people are very key in this personal story of Miguel. Vasco delivers excellent images that help make the story.

Djon Africa may come across as a boring film at first, but it’s a story about personal growth. You have to see it to understand it, as well as understand the ending.

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VIFF 2018 Review: Theatre Of War (Teatro de Guerra)

Theatre of War

Theatre Of War features six soldiers from the Falklands Islands War telling their stories of battle and aftermath.

Many people will consider the Falkland Islands War of 1982 a ‘forgotten war.’ Theatre Of War will show you six men who can’t forget it: the soldiers.

First off, I’ll answer what most of you are already asking; What are the Falkland Islands and why was a war fought over them in 1982? The Falkland Islands are a set of islands 300 miles east of the coast of Argentina. They’re 4,700 square miles wide and the population is almost 3,400. The islands were discovered by Europeans starting in the 16th century and were thought to be uninhabited. It was in the 18th century when Europeans started making the islands inhabitable with the French inhabiting the east island and the British inhabiting the west island. France eventually surrendered its ownership to Spain years later. The British captured the east island a year later, but a war was never started. Over time, the Spanish took over and the Argentineans, who refer to the islands as the Malvinas, attempted a garrison in the 19th century. Over time, the British asserted their rule over the land in 1832.

It would continue to be under British rule even though the Germans sought to own it in 1912. Naval conflict abounded with the British winning. However the Argentineans started another garrison in 1982: 150 years after British rule was declared. It was then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher started what would be remembered as the Falkland Island War. The war lasted 10 1/2 weeks and left over 900 dead. The UK won the war and British rule was reasserted.

In this documentary, we are introduced to six men: three British, three Argentinian. On the British side is Lou Armour: marine corporal, David Jackson: a young soldier at the time, and Sukrim Rai: a Nepalese immigrant who fought for the UK. On the Argentinean side is Gabriel Sagastume, Marcello, Marcelo Vallejo and Ruben Otero. Throughout the film, they tell of their experiences of what it was like to go to war at such a young age. Lou Armour actually led the British Marines. They also talk of the struggles they’ve had with their lives in the years that followed. A lot of them tell of their stories of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when it came into their lives quite late.

The unique thing about this documentary is that they don’t just talk about their stories. Very often, they act out their stories. We see all six at the pool and one talks of an incident in 2004 when he nearly drowned himself. We see two at an empty discotheque as one tells of his story of loneliness in a bar. We see one British and one Argentinean soldier showing copies of magazines published around the time of the war. It’s interesting what each magazine had to say. We see one Argentinean use tiny plastic army men to tell the story of how Argentinean soldiers first claimed the Falkland Islands and the battle that started the war. We see the six in a rock band as one ‘singer’ shouts out “Have you ever…” and tells of instances only a soldier can ever experience both in battle and in post-battle life.

However this wasn’t just simply a vanity effort what they were doing. The six also visited Argentina to tell their stories. There were times the six went to schools together telling children their stories of the war. There were times they even had to answer questions from the children. However the most interesting moment came near the end. The soldiers had six 18 year-old Argentinean men dress up like them to re-enact a moment from the war. As the soldiers were dressing them up in their war uniforms or applying scar make-up, they were telling their stories. One even showed another what it was like to wield a knife in battle. It’s interesting as they told their stories to the boys, it showed the luxury these 18 year-old boys of today have. They don’t have to be called up for battle. They can live their care free life. That was made evident just as it led to the end scene where the young men re-enacted the battle at the former soldiers’ directions.

The unique thing about this documentary is that it shows the foolish side of war. We have six men from both sides and they tell their stories. They made to be made to look like heroes in their own country but they don’t feel like heroes. They even made spoof of the political situation behind it. One scene includes soldiers in face masks of Margaret Thatcher and the Argentinean president locking lips. The film even showed that this is of a war in which the opposite sides can have a peaceful disagreement. We see that in one scene where an Argentinean and a Brit talk of the history of the Falklands/Malvinas. Both feel strongly that those islands belong to their country, but they’re able to disagree peacefully without enmity or even a fistfight.

The interesting thing is that these six soldiers did this documentary just as they were about to perform in an onstage docudrama called ‘Minefield.’ Before they performed in the play, they had the opportunity to do all this. The soldiers reunited and sorted out their differences. They went to places where they experienced these traumatic events in their lives to recreate the moment. They went to schools to educate the young children of Argentina. They even met with six young Argentinean men to give them the experience of what it is to fight in a war about a set of islands none of them really knew. This is an important docudrama worth seeing because it does tell you a lot of how a simple war that lasted three months can change lives forever, most for the worse. The film doesn’t simply show how foolish fighting over a small set of islands are, but makes other wars of past look foolish too.

Lola Arias did a very good job in creating a meaningfully documentary of what many consider a meaningless battle. Lola takes a lot of incidents from the school visits, the meeting with the young actors, the on-stage work, and various scenes solely for the documentary and brings it all together. It’s pieced together in a mixed way that may seem like it doesn’t go in a straight pattern. Maybe Arias had her reasons for doing so. She does however include a lot of important scenes and a lot of poignant moments throughout the documentary. It may not appear to have ended in a solid manner but the whole documentary tells a lot.

Theatre Of War isn’t just about six soldiers coming together, settling their differences and making peace. It’s an important reminder of that war and it shows how war is something you can’t leave behind. Even long after you’ve dropped your guns.