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Life in a small Mexican village where joy and misery, hope and pain, passion and guilt, love and decay, life and death are mixed in the peasants life and two French citizens who end up stranded in there, during a typhoid epidemic.
Rafael E. Portas
Víctor Manuel Mendoza
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Erich von Stroheim,
humanity struggles on in an indifferent and at times hostile, universe
Southern Democratic republic of Congo, the present. Kabwita, a farmer, dreams of building a house for himself, his wife and small daughters.
To this end he fells a tree, builds a charcoal oven transforming said timber into charcoal, then walks the charcoal on an adapted, overloaded bicycle to sell in the nearest town, some fifty kilometres from his village.
This is a slow burning (excuse the pun) documentary but be patient with it allow the images and sound to pull you in, this viewer found it mesmerising. What's striking is how even in the midst of abject poverty and this film is concerned with some of the poorest people on the planet, there's nonetheless at many times an extraordinary beauty. Whether it's the close in shots of the bike loaded up with sacks of charcoal, intricately bound that take on the appearance of some sort of contemporary sculpture or artwork, the chiaroscuro shots of the town at night, or the single electric lightbulb in the village, there's a strange beauty.
the African landscape is shown to great effect and this is a landscape very much affected by humans, it's shown without sentiment, it's clear what was once lush tropical forest has disappeared, in it's place are scraggy young trees and dusty roads.
The camerawork is astonishing, close in work that pulls you in with a visceral quality, you almost feel Kabwita's muscles as he pushes his load some fifty kilometres to sell in town.
The film's lightened with humour, once in town he transforms from the peasant to the shrewd businessman as he sells his cargo, his interactions with various customers, especially the market women, are very entertaining to watch. I estimated that for three weeks work of producing the charcoal then the labour involved bringing it to the town, he'll net less than 100 dollars or euros. He looks at sheets of corrugated steel - each costs around 20 USD, and he will need fifteen of these sheets just to roof his self build house. Do the maths.
Even though they're living in the most abject circumstances everyone in the film is afforded respect and dignity, a refreshing change from the usual poverty porn.
Emmanuel Gras has made a unique documentary which feels more like a journey film. There's a spiritual element to it, my reading was that it shows our insignificance in the great scheme of things but nonetheless how determined people are, the human spirit, our search for meaning and significance in an indifferent universe, an apparently meaningless and purposeless world. Watch it yourself and see what you think, this is very much a thinking persons movie, everyone will get something different from it.
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