Review: The Homes We Carry
- Brenda Akele Jorde's first feature-length documentary is an impressive account of a little-known story that nevertheless addresses the issue of identity in a relatable manner
The title of the first feature-length documentary by Afro-German director Brenda Akele Jorde, The Homes We Carry [+see also:
film profile], which is screening at Hot Docs as part of European Film Promotion's The Changing Face of Europe programme, gets quite a literal manifestation in its opening scene: the camera follows a man carrying the flag of the former German Democratic Republic through the streets of Mozambique’s capital, Maputo.
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the GDR and Mozambique had an agreement by which Mozambican workers were sent to the European socialist country to work and get training. After Germany was re-unified, the new country had no use for them and sent them back, without even paying them full salaries. Moreover, the expertise they gained was useless, as they worked with technologies that never arrived in Mozambique. The man we see in the opening scene is one of these people, called Madgermanes, and they are protesting every week: neither country is recognising their demands. Many of them started families in Germany, and they now have no legal opportunities to go back, not to mention very few financial means to do so.
The film's heroine is Sarah, the daughter of a Mozambican man, Eulidio, and a German woman, Ingrid. Jorde first introduces us to this little-known story through Eulidio's memories and photos, as well as archive TV footage. He is now working in South Africa, which can be seen as Africa's Germany, in an economic sense – a constant migrant in search of a better life.
Meanwhile, Sarah has a daughter herself, the little Luana, with a Mozambican man, Eduardo. She decides to take Luana to Africa so the kid can meet her grandfather and father. The latter is quite young and very immature, with a boyish smile and energy. He wants to build a house and was hoping to have done so before Sarah and Luana arrived, but he hasn't even started it. There is nothing any more between him and the woman, as she, according to him, insisted, but he seems very invested in his daughter. The huge disparity in perception, awareness and maturity between Sarah and Eduardo will be seen at every step, and their relationship is naturally strained.
The overarching theme of the film deals with identity. Sarah is very aware of her mixed parentage, and she recalls going to Mozambique for the first time as a teenager. “It was the first time I was complimented on my looks,” she says, referring to a kind of acceptance she had never encountered in Germany. She is teaching the young Luana, who already wants to be white like her grandma, to be proud of being both black and white. Meanwhile, men who speak both Portuguese and German, many of whom have never met their children, are left out by both countries: when they returned home, they were the target of envious compatriots who felt they'd had an unfair advantage, reducing their chances of finding work.
Even without an awareness that it is a student film – it was Jorde's MA work at the Konrad Wolf Film University of Babelsberg – The Homes We Carry is an impressive documentary with a timely and relatable topic, and its back story is excellently researched and presented. All three main individual characters are compelling and relatable, especially Sarah, but her and Eduardo's story in the film is somewhat less engaging and convincing than the wider narrative. This probably comes from the nature of their complicated relationship or, rather, its inherent lack of development.
All of the technical contributions are impressive, while an elegantly used a cappella singing score from composer Lenna Bahule stands out with a tone that subtly shifts between emotional registers as the film progresses.
The Homes We Carry was co-produced by Germany's Film Five and Konrad Wolf Film University of Babelsberg.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.