Makala (2017) * * * *
Dir.: Emmanuel Gras; Documentary with Kabwita Kasongo, Lydie Kasongo; France 2017, 96’.
MAKALA confirms Emmanuel Gras (Bovines) as a major talen who “looks for expressiveness, not realism” and achieves just that in this visually stunning Cannes Critics’ week winning film that seamlessly blends documentary and feature.
Kabwita Kasongo (28) is married to Lydie, and they live with two of their kids in the village of Walemba in the Katanga province of the democratic Republic of the Congo. An elder daughter is with Lydie’s sister in the town of Kolwezi, fifty km from Walemba. In Swahili, Makala means charcoal, which Kabwita crafts from cutting and slowly burning a massive tree. Finally, he sets off with an overloaded bicycle, his prize possession, to sell the charcoal in Kolwezi. The three day journey is torturous and dangerous, particularly at night when lorries barrel by, often pushing Kabwita’s bike over, making him lose some of his precious cargo. The dream of owning his own home is far away as the15 sheets of metal required for a roof, would cost more than ten times the amount he gets for his charcoal.
Gras “developed a principle from fiction, of an beginning and an end”. And Kabwita is very much a noir-hero, his profit, and with it, his future, more and more reduced by circumstances beyond his control. In common with American Noirs directed by Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy/The Big Combo), the main protagonist is literally pushed to the margins of screen – contrary to the classic Hollywood films, where the accessible object is positioned front and centre in full view. Like a Lewis’ character, Kabwita teeters on the edge, in danger of falling out of the frame, threatened by the menacing lorries, which look more like robots out of sci-fi feature. Furthermore, Gras creates an aura of mystery (as in Lewis’ films), some parts of the frame are partly concealed, leaving us to join the main protagonist’s struggle to keep up with the ever- shifting sands of the action.
Gaspar Claus’ eerie violin score echoes the distressing mood of intensifying hopelessness. Gras has pioneers a style of his own: richly imaginative in its portrait of poverty and powerlessness. AS
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