Angolan-born Portuguese multihyphenate Joao Viana crafts an opaque, heavy-handed metaphor for Guineau-Bissau’s injured spirit in his feature helming debut, “The Battle of Tabato.” Meant as a meditation on the African nation’s complex relationship with its Portuguese colonial past and the way it haunts their present dysfunction as well as the people’s pride in their earlier history, the pic, shot in self-conscious black-and-white (apart from red flashes), yokes magical realism and the healing power of music to an arch, artificial narrative. Fests scrambling for African entries may take a look.
“Four thousand five hundred years ago, while you were waging war, we invented agriculture,” says the narrator (a line repeated at pic’s end). The dates don’t fit history, but Viana’s point, presumably, is to reclaim the Mandinka people’s centrality in human advancement. This goal gets lost in the ensuing story, in which Baio (Mutar Djebate), haunted by his past as a soldier in the colonial wars, returns to Guinea-Bissau for the ill-fated wedding of daughter Fatu (Fatu Djebate) and Idrissa (Mamadu Baio) in the musically inclined village of Tabato. Halting line-delivery hinders engagement; visuals are artfully appealing, but little more.