12 September 2007

Angolan Films and Filmed in Angola

We recently embarked on a project to watch all of the Angolan or Angola-related films we could get our hands on. The project is generally motivated by simple interest but Ms. R's also been able to justify it somewhat in terms of research as it's generally useful to her work to have a handle on some of the ways that Angola and the civil war have been portrayed in media. We were able to find films in the Film, Media and Video Resources for African Studies Database at Emory University and by doing a variety of searches for "Angola" in country, description, location, etc at the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) website. We were able to find copies of the films at our local, independent video rental store, through Netflix, and through interlibrary loan. Here's what we've watched so far:

Angolan Films:

O Herói (The Hero) (2004) directed by Zézé Gamboa won the Sundance Grand Jury prize for World Cinema. It follows parallel stories of a young boy and a soldier with an amputated leg trying to put their lives together in Luanda after the end of the conflict. It deftly packs in a tremendous number of the challenges facing Angolans (then and now) without interrupting the flow of the narrative. I especially admired Gomboa's ability to avoid tipping into the overly-dramatic or the unrealistically optimistic, though the resolution somewhat avoids the challenges the characters will facing going forward.

Na Cidade Vazia (Hollow City) (2004) directed by Maria João Ganga centers on the experience of a young orphan boy, N'Dala, that has run away from the mission that transported him to Luanda from the provinces for care. In stumbling through the strange new city he befriends a variety of people including another boy, a fisherman, and a criminal. By the time the end of the film arrives and the nun that's been searching for him is about to find him, N'Dala has found himself in more trouble than he realizes, despite his best efforts. This is a sad and tense film without a happy resolution but, like O Herói, has some wonderful views of the city and gives a picture of one life there.

Bad Action Flicks Set in Angola:

First, a note: these films are terrible. I mean terrible. But, there is something you can do to make them more entertaining: Follow the bad guy. These movies come at an incredibly difficult time for Hollywood; the cold war has more or less ended and the terror wars haven't yet begun. So, who, prey tell, is going to serve as the go-to bad dudes in all those B-movies? "Well, hell," Hollywood thinks to itself, "There's still a war in Angola! The Russians and Cubans are still on fighting on the opposite side from us! Let's go there!" And, well, it almost worked except for the fact that Americans had little or no idea about the Angolan civil war, and that the who's fighting whom was pretty complicated. It's hard to be a "good guy" if you're fighting with the diamond-funded rebels. So, the "good guys" and the "bad guys" in these movies are different both between films and, in most cases, within films. It's hard to keep track of, but that's OK; you'll need something to do during the show to keep yourself from gouging your eyes out.

Who knew that when, as kids, a friend and I decided that Red Scorpion (1989) staring the awe(or cringe)-inspiring Dolph Lundgren was easily be the best movie ever, that we had unwittingly committed ourselves to spending weekend after weekend after weekend watching a film set in Angola? Not us! We were just in it for Dolph's bad-assed-ness and the explosions! Well, well years later I've decided to head to Angola and discovered that Dolph is the actor to hire if you're setting a film there. Let's not mince words: this film is terrible. A specially trained Russian super-weapon (Dolph) is sent on an assassination mission and fails after which he is betrayed by his government. He escapes into the bush where he nearly dies. He's saved by a local tribe and initiated as a warrior. The tribe is subsequently massacred by the Russians. This terrible personal tragedy allows Dolph to see the beauty of the land, and so he joins the struggle of the local people (lead by the man he failed to assassinate at the beginning of the film, no less) against the intruding government(s). The Russians then attack a village and succeed in killing the local leader, sending Dolph into a fit of rage. Massive explosions ensue, Dolph kills more or less everyone. What's not to love? Special props, by the way, to the hilarious (read: terrible) portrayal of the American journalist here by M. Emmet Walsh.

If after seeing Red Scorpion and remembering back to Rocky IV you think that Dolph is one-dimensional, Russian-playing muscle-head, perhaps his performance in Sweepers (1998) will convince you of his tremendous versatility. Playing an American and the ultimate mine sweeping expert, Dolph goes on a bender after losing his son to a minefield accident. American Michelle arrives on the scene in search of a classified mine design that's gone missing. In the course of sobering up Dolph to elicit his help in finding the mine and running from various bad guys, they uncover a mine manufacturing and smuggling operation and fall in love. They bring down the illegal operation the only way Dolph knows how: blowing up everything in sight. The best part of this film is that the trailer included on the DVD shows you every important scene in the film, so you can just watch that instead and save yourself 90 minutes you'll never recover.

There's no more Dolph at this point, but there is a terrible Ernest Borgnine performance in Skeleton Coast (1987). Ernest plays an aging former soldier who heads to Angola to mount a private mission to rescue his son, a captive CIA operative, from a heavily guarded fort. His private militia includes a classic set of ass-kickers (introduced in a hilarious pan sequence) like Muscle-bound Ex-Marine Guy, Crazy Guy that Likes to 'Xlplode Stuff, Technology Specialist Gadget Guy, Ninja Martial-Arts Asian Guy, Gutsy "I don't give a damn" Black Dude, and Tough-ass Hot Blond Chick with Big Rack (shower scene included!). Along they way they drive through the desert, smuggle some diamonds, drive through the desert, get help from the rebel army, walk through the desert, steal a plane, and, oh, fly over the desert. The ending is completely confounding, but it involves imitating Cubans, the good guys win, and Ernest gets the girl (more-or-less).

SNL Season 1:

The last thing we've watched (so far!) are excerpts from the very first season of Saturday Night Live where during Weekend Update Chevy Chase tries on three separate occasions to connect with a reporter live in Luanda. The first time Chevy reaches a reporter in her American home, the second time no one except a janitor is in the office in Luanda because of the time difference, and the third time the reporter is sexually accosted (eventually willingly) by a horny mercenary during a live interview. These scenes are very brief and have little or nothing to do with Angola. We were, though, very impressed by the first season of SNL. We learned that we hate Dick Cavett and we loved the live performances by Jimmy Cliff and Bill Withers. Highly recommended!

1 comment:

een said...

thanks for your reviews. I loved Heroi, and going to watch Hollow City now. It can be difficult getting African films in the (insular) uk. Espero que esta a gostar a sua vida em Angola. Obrigado