Gabriel Abrantes and Benjamin Crotty, Liberdade, 2010, with: Betty Meixue, Wilson Teixeira, Dadi, Dadinho, Gu Hong Zhen, Joel, Joelson Da Silva, Li Kun Qiong, Márcio Marcelino, Mu Yuan Shuai, Orlando Sérgio, Ricardo Matias, Wang Tian Guo, Zhou Jian Produced Zé dos Bois, Naxto Checa, Mutual Respect Productions, 17 minutes color, film report by craniv boyd.
There is a concrete iconic quality to the recent short film, Liberdade, 2010 co-directed by Luso-American Gabriel Abrantes and American Benjamin Crotty. It is set and filmed in Luanda the capital of Angola, and in the 17 short minutes which consist of the film, filmed on super 16 Kodak film stock, Liberdade takes you somewhere at once too real, and totally vague at once.
Shall we begin at the end?
Liberdade starts with an African woman inside what appears to be a run down store of some kind, a young man dressed in white draws a gun and points it at her stout face, she throws up her hands and indicates her willingness to cooperate with the young armed villain, she asks what he wants and he screams rather hurriedly "Viagra!" "What?" he has no time for an explanation of what it is but now we know that the run down store we are in is a pharmacy, there is a sound track of poly-rhythmic Reggae esque music with a refrain that is repeating words "não passé nada," the armed robber flees from the store and the shop attendant though still terrified shudders a sigh that may be a mix of relief and grief. From a great distance we see the young man in white running in a chaotic urban street with a red dirt road. It is dreamlike the telephoto lens indicated that his fast movements are some how stuck in his framing. We see him turn a corner, rush into a dark portal there are people just standing about, a young boy on a balcony waves and points indicating the vector and trajectory of the young man in white, for whom is quickly made certain Luanda's police force, they rush into a the portal. The young man in white runs up a brutalist concrete stair well decorated with years of graffiti and wall scrawl in a building clearly condemned and clearly populated by babies, children that he rushes past shrieking toddlers and pre-adolescents who get out of the way for the two officers of Angolan Law in hot pursuit up, he reaches the destination of the wall-less top floor of the dilapidated high rise apartment house, his great escape is the young Chinese maiden in white tunic black leggings and red belt, he approaches her and a cool intimacy is formed by their behavior towards one another, they have a quiet wordless moment together, then the law arrives interrupting their innocent date they tell the "boy" to drop the weapon that he is surrounded to let the girl go, the tension of the "hostage situation" mounts with the sound of a near by helicopter the young man in white holding the young Chinese maiden close tells her looking off into the distance in English "every thing is going to be O.K." We see the bright late afternoon sun through a filter of haze then from a choreographed ærial long take we see the lovers their enthrallment and the police intent on both diffusing the situation and making an apprehension spiraling out and away from the dead end drama locating it for those who know Luanda in a ruin of Modernism and then in what one could imagine as a pre 1974 pristine postcard sky line view updated to the view from 2010.
The consultation of the Scouting boy
We are back on a street corner and a crowd of people with nothing to do sit stunned and together, they are just there, shown to us innumerable extras, the boy in white is in the uniform of the Angolan Boy Scouts, the patches that adorn his khaki shirt are code for a patient disciplined disposition, he has collected these patches and wears them with a kind of stooped nonchalant pride, a gangly youth ambling into a courtyard where more people are seated, these people passively active listening to who we assume is an African leader speaking of how, I paraphrase; "we (Angola) are entering a new era of internationalism and cooperation with foreign States" the words are there just like the reality of the seated people listening to the radio. The boy scout moves out of frame and we are inside a medical or doctors office, and a middle aged man with sterilized green surgeons cap, face guard and white lab coat is seated looking dispassionately downward. We expect that there will be a turn of conversation focused on a prognosis about the health or sickness of the boy Scout, not so the doctor here is asking the boy scout if he has met her family yet, when the Boy Scout answers in the negative, but that the initial meeting of the girl-s parents is pending his advice is not medical, "dress like an angel".
Junked out Trashy Space
The Boy Scout enters back into the dark portal and ascends the stairs now familiar to us because of what we have seen in the opening montage, walking languidly up member of a procession it would seem of Angolan men and women carrying plastic Tupperware Type bowls on their heads. There is no rush this time, no pressure, he crosses at a landing and transverses a floor that is covered in a sea of garbage, at a suggestive snails pace. The Boy Scout whistles and looks up to the floor above, another youth emerges dressed in tee-shirt and surfboard swim trunks he says "Liberdade" with a smile and claps, the Boy Scout smiles back and with his thumbs up in recognition we realize this is the first time we hear his name, poignantly his name is given by a friend or relation, the purpose of Liberdade s visit is made clear the need of borrowing some nice clothing. His buddy tells him to wait and remain clam reemerging on the balcony he holds a black nylon backpack saying this is all that he has, Liberdade nods and receives the parcel thrown gently downward.
We are back in the mass of trash a resting youth luxuriating on raised slab of concrete with an empty glass liter bottle of coca cola Liberdade joins him and like a hermetic he volunteers, "you are looking like Denzel Washington right now" he pauses looking at Liberdade "Pelican Brief" and states further that: " (he) would really like to be filming that right now." Strange commentary or cryptic compliment on a friends dress that seems almost ironic and at the same time mysteriously North American in its near obsession with a comparison to the Hollywood thriller film, but then again not just any Hollywood film but one of suspense 90's vintage that touches on climate change and environmental issues.
The View from China Town
There are some people eating spinning a lazy Susan taking from small dishes with chop sticks, where are we now the view out the window over the table as the Chinese men eat, informs us that we are now in the other side of Luanda, we see the high rise from a distance in recognition of that architectural landmark we are still in Angola, we see the girl and she is being passively aggressively questioned about her friend Liberdade, her mother thinks that he seems stupid, she wants to know if he is in school. We have a meet the parent-s situation but some how no real meeting is taking place, seated next to her, Liberdade compliments the karaoke voice of the young Chinese maiden-s father. She in formal black has a severe case of ennui pleading for an escape barely audible under the parental karaoke duet in Mandarin.
Say it in broken English
The lovers talk to one another in English and we have a Rashoman type moment when the both members of the love affair recount in almost the same words in different languages what they have been doing for the past three weeks. The man speaking of a spiritual and physical beauty the light he feels emanates from both her body and soul, before he mentions his potency issue in his voiced-over aside, the woman speaks of her own actions of stuffing folded napkins in her shoes to reduce the physical pain that she feels in her feet, she goes on to praise the consideration and doting that her lover bestows on her, all this is a preface to the mentioning of her lovers potency issue that is both mysterious and haunting. The description relationship becomes a plastic object, their language for it a silent partner that charges the film with both tragic and maudlin overtones that delicately veer towards a kind of sentimentality.
They sit in the shade doing nothing, she says that she wants to swim, and Liberdade responds "its a deal" slowly uttered simple dialogue of non native speakers taking in a kind of cliché quotidian North American pop culture export patios.
The film ends with the sea and broken rusted Vessels beached like whale carcæ. Playground for adolescents, an impotent love affair that is not bombastically Arizonian suburban vampire romance saga, like Twilight this is a cold unconsummated love yet in the indeterminate yearning built around this teen diverse couple Chinese and African pair set in Angola, we have a situation or an atmosphere reflective of both Lusophonic culture and that infamous untranslatable word saudade. That brings it away from the sensationalist approach to Africa that Hungarian Born Artist and Art-director Tibor Kalman, had with his numerous socially committed ad campaigns for the Italian Basics brand of United Colors of Beniton in the 1990's, Abrantes and Crotty's common approach and treatment could be viewed as a deliberate development from ideas and themes in their previous film together Visionary Iraq, 2008, where one character is an adopted orphan girl from Angola, who having issues with sexual climax enlists with the Portuguese army to be in a place that is "soo real". The staged contained scenic quality of Visionary Iraq, contrasts with the realness of on location for Liberdade Filmed in Angola, a picture that though cavalier is subtle fare with multiple readings. By craniv boyd