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GOCRITIC! Animateka 2022

GoCritic! Review: Nayola


- Sara Šabec reviews Portuguese director José Miguel Ribeiro's fascinating, female character-driven feature-length animation set during the civil war in Angola

GoCritic! Review: Nayola
Nayola by José Miguel Ribeiro

José Miguel Ribeiro's incredibly lively and colourful animated film Nayola [+see also:
film review
film profile
takes us to Angola - a former Portuguese colony which suffered a 27-year civil war - to paint an illustrative picture of the ravages caused by war long after it’s over.

Ribiera develops this theme through three generations of women from the same family, all scarred by war in their own way. By way of this female cast, who depict strong, combative, moral and independent characters rather than passive individuals, the filmmaker shows that the battles weren’t only fought by men in this instance, but also by women.

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In the first time frame, we follow Nayola, a young mother who decides to search for her husband Ekumi who disappeared during the war. It hasn’t been an easy decision for her to make, and it’s not without its consequences: Nayola must leave her two-year-old daughter Yara behind. Years later, we follow the story of Yara, a human rights activist who expresses what she thinks and how she feels about the current political situation through her music. While trying to distribute her new album illegally, she’s forced to hide and flee from the military time and time again.

The third but no less important female character in the story is the grandmother Lelena, who takes care of her granddaughter while carrying the pain of war, family secrets and the loss of a daughter inside of her. The more the story develops and the more we learn about Nayola and Yara, the more the two parallel timelines converge. The key moment which sees them merge together is an expected visit by a strange yet familiar burglar.

The artist's animations are an effective combination of hand-drawn techniques and CGI. The former open the viewer's eyes to the protagonist's inner experience with such simplicity and minimalism that we can almost feel Nayola's pain. The film’s computer-generated animation, by contrast, offers up a colourful, exhaustive, and at times overly intense experience of nature and city life.

As the film demonstrates, war is the result of the power wielded by decision-makers. It’s ordinary people who suffer the consequences of it. Those people who lose their homes, their loved ones, their cities and the nature which surrounds them are forced into a constant state of survival: live and fight or die. Remarkably, the film not only depicts wartime; it also reveals its legacy. What remains of a person afterwards? Nayola’s last words to her mother might describe it best: "Once you’re at war, you never really come back."

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