Photojournalist Jack Nicholson isn’t having a great time in Saharan Africa, sees an opportunity and grabs it, stealing the identity of his suddenly deceased hotel neighbor, the only other white guy in town. Jack’s abandoned wife Jenny Runacre (The Final Programme, Jarman’s Jubilee) investigates, while Jack faithfully follows the dead guy’s appointment book, even after learning that he was an arms dealer, and meets the same fate as the guy he’s impersonating, though he gets to hang out with Maria Schneider along the way.

Maria, Jack, Gaudi:

Thought I’d seen this a long time ago, but maybe I’ve confused it with The Conformist again. MA: “Actually, the entire story takes place in a short period of one day, from early morning until some time before sunset” – that’s not true, it’s set in four countries and we see a UK newspaper article about Jack’s death in Africa, and we see Jack’s appointments spread across a week in the book. Maybe he meant as the film was originally written. The fourth movie I’ve seen in the last few years to play in the 1975 competition at Cannes. Argh, the execution footage in this wasn’t faked.

Las Ramblas:

Beautiful, sedate b/w photography.

A kid wants to get out of the country, makes some money on the khat harvest.

Not a tight story, more of a roaming poetic work, most of which I have completely forgotten, as have the letterboxd commenters who left even shorter write-ups than this one. I sure loved it at the time, tho.

A Thousand Suns (2013, Mati Diop)

Starts with very few indications that it’s not a purely observational doc following the lead actor of Touki Bouki making his way to an anniversary screening, but by the end we’re in a new realm with nude women in the Alaskan snow. Nice use of Tex Ritter’s “High Noon”

Diop in Cinema Scope:

The sole element of reality that I kept in my film is that Magaye Niang stayed in Dakar and Myriam Niang left for Alaska. From there I took fictional liberties, but the phone conversation that is heard in the film remains quite faithful to the real conversation that I recorded between the two actors. Nothing is true and nothing is false in my film.


Metaphor or Sadness Inside Out (2014, Catarina Vasconcelos)

The metaphor is an elephant. Bookending square-frame film segments with HD in the middle, circling around memories of a mother who died when her kids were teens. More focus on family, photos and letters – a proto-Metamorphosis of Birds that stands well on its own, and an example of how to use home movies and photographs in poetic ways.


A So-Called Archive (2020, Igwe Onyeka)

Upbeat promo soundtrack introduces a museum while the camera shows its pigeon-infested remains, tracing cobwebs, tattered filmstrips and lines of decay. Filmed inside two shuttered colonial archives in UK and Nigeria, this was already a fascinating little movie and the online description only improves it.

Watched for the Mdou Moctar music, spent the runtime trying to remember Purple Rain. Mdou is new in a Niger town, takes on the local guitar king, but Mdou’s dad disapproves of his music and destroys his guitar. Can he impress the cute girl, find a new left-handed guitar in time for the big competition, and write a killer new song that’s even better than his previous song, which rival Morris Day Kader has stolen for his own band? Yes!

Lemonade for children… all the Beyoncé glam you could ever desire, plus “black is beautiful” lyrics and Lion King dialogue. That said… those visuals, and costumes, and dances, all 100% all the time. So this is probably the best extended music-video of a tie-in album to a movie remake that could possibly be made.

Filmed in at least six countries, with a few special guests we recognized and plenty we did not. Segment directors include The Burial of Kojo guy, and someone who recently collaborated with Terence Nance… the cinematographers worked with Spike Lee and Solange (and John Mulaney), the production designers did Black Panther, Moonlight, and Room. Anyway, the youth of today is gonna grow up with images from this and Black Panther in their heads when they hear the word “Africa,” which is certainly a change from the “starving children on TV ads” impression I grew up with.

The five members of the Sudanese Film Group in Khartoum reenact scenes from classic movies, pretend to film each other, hold public screenings of Chaplin’s Modern Times – and almost Django Unchained, until the authorities find out.

A warm little movie, slow-paced but engrossing. Played this year’s True/False with director in attendance, but it didn’t fit into our schedule.

Our first movie of 2020 was this hazy, ghostly thing. Ada is being tailed by Detective Issa, who suspects her of setting fire to her new husband Omar’s house, but at night Issa is being possessed by the spirit of Ada’s lover Souleiman who died at sea seeking work in a country that didn’t constantly rip him off.

Great synth music by Fatima Al Qadiri, who has released records on Warp and Hyperdub, and cinematography by Claire Mathon, who shot both the Guiraudie movies I’ve seen, and is currently winning awards for Portrait of a Lady on Fire. No screenshots because we cancelled netflix since watching.

“There’s a problem with your films. I don’t understand it. It’s not clear at all.”

A Belgian movie, watched for the Shadowplay thing, but I opted to cover Ferat Vampire instead because this one seemed… more difficult. As the red curtains open and the film begins, diorama-like, full of seared memories and dream logic, I tell myself “don’t call it Lynchian, that’s what everyone has said about it,” but Goodreads tell me that Smolders wrote a book about Eraserhead and Vimeo says he made a video called Lynch Empire, so nevermind, it’s Lynchian. This is his only feature to date, in a 35-year career of shorts.

Kids walk towards the camera, a bug is pinned to the wall, twin Poltergeist II preachers are flashback-puppeteers, causing a wolfman to kill the girl to big choral music, like hymns with some Thin Red Line mixed in. The girl lives again, only to be killed with scissors. Then the doctor, who is viewing these memory-plays by peering into our suit-wearing protagonist’s ear, says he’s fantasizing and he never had a sister, let alone a murdered one, and he needs to chill out.

Our man has an a static Crispin Glovery intensity, and a facial birthmark so we can conveniently tell who plays him in flashback, living in a city under near-permanent eclipse (the second time in 24 hours I’ve thought of Dark City). He works as the bug guy in a museum – a zoo worker in a room full of film cans – and we’ve seen multiple sets of identical twins at this point, making this the second movie this year after the Mandico short to be strongly reminiscent of A Zed & Two Noughts.

Enough with all the comparisons to other films – we go into overdrive when a black woman (the museum security guard) appears, sick and naked and pregnant, in his bed. We hear her thoughts, untranslated (at least on my DVD), while he deals with his stress by watching anthropological films of a beardy colonialist white man (his father, and the museum director). She make him promise not to leave, he immediately runs into the hallway while she gets killed by the ghost of his dead sister, then turns into a cocoon that births a white woman who goes to the museum, naked but for a leopard-skin coat, and murders a taxidermist, the sun comes out and everyone gets annoyed, and now the allusions/symbolism are out of my league.

Anyway, the closeup of leaf insects are great. This would seem to be a cult movie in need of a cult. Smolders was reportedly born in Kinshasa, says in the extras that his film’s vision of Africa is “a fantasized territory based on stories written by … large museums which … fanatically classified a universe that they didn’t understand.” He also says that the story’s logic is based on the rule that “what happens to a character is exactly what he most fears, yet desires at the same time.”

The most colorful African movie we’ve seen – well-acted, a high-quality production with a timely subject. Shame about the weak and obvious script. At least that was my position before reading Sarah-Tai Black’s Cinema Scope article, which basically says to shut up about the conventional structure and narrative, since it’s a groundbreaking film in other, important ways.

Kena (right) and Ziki should’ve known better than to hang out near these spies:

Kena’s dad is a shopkeeper who recently ditched Kena’s very religious mom to start a new family, and he’s in a political race against Ziki’s dad (Dennis Musyoka, a small role in Sense8). Kena starts ditching her would-be-boyfriend Blacksta and the daughter of the local gossip when she meets Ziki, and the two start growing closer until, inevitably, they get caught, beaten, arrested, preached-at and prayed-for, and permanently separated. I’m pretty sure Kena becomes a doctor at the end and Ziki moves away.

Kena hashes things out with Blacksta, but spies are everywhere:

Katy and I have also seen Kahiu’s awesome dystopian short and her feature drama about people connecting in the wake of Kenyan embassy bombings, and will be sitting tight waiting for the next one.