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Review: Nayola


- This fascinating first animated feature film of Portuguese initiative is a remarkable showcase for the abundant artistic talent of filmmaker José Miguel Ribeiro

Review: Nayola

"Welcome to Angola, where trouble abounds… The fight for survival, day after day." From the call for urban guerrilla warfare chanted by a female rapper as she is pursued by police in 2011, to the civil war of 1995 where a woman looks for her husband who has gone missing in combat (a conflict which devastated the country from 1975 to 2002 following the war of independence), Nayola [+see also:
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, the feature debut from José Miguel Ribeiro, presented in competition at the 41st Annecy Animation Film Festival, plunges in the broken heart of a long lasting national tragedy: “we killed so many, have seen so many people die, there aren’t many people left to talk about what it was like.” 

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This tale of murderous craze, where telling the good from the bad ends up making no sense at all in a panorama of ruins, bombings, mine fields, torture by near-drowning in gasoline, and summary executions in nearly deserted areas — the film is its mirror, through two eras and three generations of women: Lelena (the grand-mother), Nayola (her daughter) and Yara (her grand-daughter). Risking her life in the middle of the conflicts of 1995, the second has been looking for eight months for her husband Ekumbi, who went to fight then went missing. In the “peaceful” Angola of 2011, Yara attempts to illegally broadcast her CD titled “New Country” (“I do not accept to live in a country that, instead of protecting us, oppresses us. Whoever thinks differently does not have a right to freedom of expression. And my rights? I’m singing about reality therefore I deserve to be punished?”). She lives with her grandmother because her mother never came back. Two timelines are thus juxtaposed, and their knots will be unraveled following the intrusion at Yara’s of a menacing masked figure…  

Beyond its arresting historical reconstruction set to the rhythm of the conflicts of the past and the night raids of the closer present, which give the film a captivating action pulse and a flavour of peaceful and feminist commitment (the script was written by Virgílio Almeida and based on the play The Black Box by Mia Couto and José Eduardo Angualusa), the film is most striking for its highly developed artistic sensibility. Variations in the type of animation (more or less realist) depending on the alternation between the two eras of the story, which take place in nature and in the city respectively; inserts of fascinating dreamlike passages that resemble paintings; the great quality of the mise en scene (movements, transitions, etc): José Miguel Ribeiro exposes a very wide palette of animation filmmaking talents, successfully achieving a beautiful balance between an ultimately simple but edifying story about the chaos of war that almost swallowed a country whole, the transmission of values such as defending people’s rights and keeping the faith in ideals even as they are suck into the vortex of conflicts, and an ancestral magic at work in a parallel dimension where man must purify himself of his most obscure sins. 

The very first animated feature film of Portuguese initiative, Nayola was produced by Praça Filmes with Belgian companies S.O.I.L. Productions and Luna Blue Films, French company JPL Films and Dutch company il Luster. International sales are handled by Urban Sales.

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(Translated from French)

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