Djon Africa: A journey through identity limbo
by Vitor Pinto
- Portuguese duo Filipa Reis and João Miller Guerra have presented their feature debut in Rotterdam’s competition
It can be disturbing to feel like a foreigner – and to be perceived as one – in the country where you were born and where you have lived for most of your life. Besides bureaucratic issues, your sense of belonging gets stuck somewhere between the customs of the country you live in and the DNA flowing in your blood. Clashes are likely to occur between who you are and who you are not; between who you want to be and other people’s perspectives of who you should be. Stranded in this identity limbo is 25-year-old Miguel, the lead character in Djon Africa [+see also:
film profile], the film by Portuguese duo Filipa Reis and João Miller Guerra that is competing at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.
Djon Africa begins with Miguel and a female friend of his trying to shoplift from a mall. Then we get a glimpse into his life: he lives with his aged grandmother in the suburbs of Lisbon, he has a ginger girlfriend, he works in the construction sector, he has never met his father (whom he closely resembles), and he has never been to Cape Verde, where his family is originally from. These last two pieces of information are particularly important when it comes to piecing together the jigsaw of his life, so he decides to go on a trip to Cape Verde, in search of his roots – and himself.
Miguel Moreira, who previously starred in other short and mid-length projects by the Portuguese duo, totally carries the film by himself, delivering a laid-back yet charmingly convincing performance for a non-professional actor. The script, co-written by Miller Guerra and Pedro Pinho (the director of The Nothing Factory [+see also:
interview: Pedro Pinho
film profile] and a lover of Cape Verdean culture), takes him on a journey to several popular spots in the country (Praia, Tarrafal, São Nicolau…). There, he is confronted with the local culture, including live concerts, parties, gastronomy and an omnipresent drink, grogue, the effects of which he becomes fully aware of during his first day in the country. The locals tend to give him a warm welcome, yet they still see him as a foreigner. In Portugal, he was not Portuguese; in Cape Verde, he is not Cape Verdean. His quest for his father proves unsuccessful, but still he continues to follow the clues, trying to find a way to fit in.
DoP Vasco Viana shows a great fascination for the local people and landscapes, infusing the film with an undeniable documentary style. However, this realistic feeling is counterbalanced by several sequences that flirt with oneiric or fantasy dimensions, such as the dancing scene during the flight, or the arrival of an old lady towards the end of the film, whose presence could be real or could be part of Miguel’s imagination. At one point, Miguel receives a message from his Portuguese girlfriend announcing that she is pregnant. But what does it mean to be a father when you had no father figure yourself? The ending is open to interpretation, but the music during the end credits seems to suggest the possibility of a confident future – a sense of possibility that had been absent from most of the movie until then: “Hallelujah/happiness/a new year/a new life/we want an African future.”