The first film set in Cape Verde to be directed by a local, “Contenda Island” is a deliberate tale of the ravages of (Portuguese) colonialism. Incorporating themes of nostalgia, exile, miscegenation and covetousness — and that’s just for starters — pic tells a multilayered story that could be juicy if its execution were not so staid. Result is consistently watchable, however, and could interest fest programmers.
Adapted from a novel of the same name, “Contenda Island” begins April 30, 1963, when the local white aristocracy is being forced to relinquish its grip to formerly scorned, upstart mulattos. Pomp is still in place in Portugal’s province, but circumstances are deteriorating without the financial support needed for crucial services such as health care.
Eusebio (Joao Lourenco), a dutiful son whose brother split for other shores four decades earlier, vows to maintain his dying mother’s standards. In one of several visually stunning sequences, Mom is buried in a cemetery whose above-ground tombs are a stone’s throw from the crashing surf.
Hounded by creditors, Eusebio is forced to divvy up the family’s holdings. His parvenu neighbor’s tactics, his own half-caste son’s forbidden romance, his mercenary brother’s opportunistic return and the politically motivated hounding of a gifted black doctor all rumble and roil as Eusebio attempts to reclaim the title estate his parents loved. Through it all, Eusebio remains touching as an honest man burdened by nostalgia, struggling to maintain the allegiances he believes are right.
Heavy though things get, there is some wry comic relief from time to time. Perfs vary from hammy to very good. Lensing is straightforward, other tech credits pro.