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BERLINALE 2024 Competition

Review: Black Tea

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- BERLINALE 2024: Abderrahmane Sissako breaks down the boundaries between Africa and Asia, dream and reality, and past and present in an enigmatic and melancholy film on love and freedom

Review: Black Tea
Chang Han and Nina Mélo in Black Tea

"To find happiness and feel free to live the life you dream of deep down." Having scaled the lofty heights of world cinema by way of Timbuktu [+see also:
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(in competition in Cannes in 2014 and nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2015, among other achievements), Mauritian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako has thrown himself into an extensive and highly personal journey by way of Black Tea [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, which was unveiled in competition within the 74th Berlinale. Both minimalistic and in search of vast universality, anchored in a very simple storyline (love, an encounter) yet complex in its digressions, of indisputable formal beauty but open over the artificiality of the filmmaking process, the movie proves to be a cinematographic world apart, requiring patience and a conciliatory approach from the audience.

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This strange adventure (on the shifting border between oneirism and realism and treating us to several forays into the past) is set on a globalised planet and revolves around Ivory Coast inhabitant Aya (Nina Mélo) who has turned her back on her homeland (and a marriage refused at the last minute) in order to travel to China, specifically to Canton’s "Chocolate City" district. Here, in the boutique owned by Cai (Chang Han), she learns about the subtleties of tea ceremonies, whilst also embarking on a secret idyll with her divorced boss who worked in Cape Verde, Africa for five years two decades earlier. Gravitating around them like drops of perfume adding different scents to the story are a myriad of secondary characters and businesses (notably a hairdresser’s where afro-beats rule) trading in the vicinity of Cai’s family (his ex, his 20-year-old son, his parents-in-law, but also his hidden daughter from a previous life in Africa).

First comes the atmosphere, then comes the taste and then the feelings. Much like the various stages involved in a tea ceremony, Abderrahmane Sissako pays the utmost attention (in aesthetic terms too) to every sequence, every movement and every word spoken, as unimportant as they may all seem at first glance, so as to create breathing spaces and an atmosphere of experience which incites many questions and delays all answers. It’s a sensitive and idealistic manifesto  ("look at the world differently") in favour of harmony between living creatures ("allow ourselves to be happy") and allowing time for the future to trace itself out on a planet where meetings between cultures are already in motion, but where you still have to settle a few scores from the past (namely lies and bitterness). Sissako’s film seeks out "the original perfume" of love and happiness, transposing this desire for perfection in a roundabout (through various subplots) and even cryptic way ("there are some things that I don’t know how to talk about"), though his peaceful pace is arguably such that he might leave certain viewers somewhat sceptical.

Black Tea is produced by French firms Cinéfrance Studios and Archipel 35 together with Mauritian outfit Dune Vision, in co-production with Gaumont (who are steering international sales), Red Lion, House on Fire, House on Fire International (Taiwan), Wassakara Productions (Ivory Coast) and Arte France Cinéma.

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(Translated from French)


Photogallery 21/02/2024: Berlinale 2024 - Black Tea

18 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Abderrahmane Sissako, Chang Han, Nina Melo, Wu Ke Xi, Kessen Fatoumata Tall
© 2024 Dario Caruso for Cineuropa - dario-caruso.fr, @studio.photo.dar, Dario Caruso

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