×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Hope’

Docu director Boris Lojkine's first fictional feature mixes romance and reportage in a tough African migrant study.

With:
Endurance Newton, Justin Wang, Dieudonne Bertrand Balo'o, Bobby Igiebor, Richmond N'diri Kouassi, Nabyl Fally Koivogui, Henri Didier Njikam, Martial Eric Italien,  Dandy Amienoho Osawaru. (French, English, Arabic dialogue)

There exists a rich anthropological patchwork of survival stories from sub-Saharan African migrants who have traversed desert and sea in pursuit of a better life in Europe, yet it’s one that has remained largely untapped on film. That’d be reason enough to welcome “Hope” to the extreme road-movie subgenre populated by the likes of “In This World” and “The Golden Dream,” even if the film weren’t as commendably tough and vividly realized as it is. Chronicling the pragmatic but finally tender alliance between a young Nigerian woman and a Cameroonian man battling brutal odds to reach the shores of Spain, this confident narrative debut for French docu helmer Boris Lojkine is perhaps too solemnly muted (and its title too ironic) for extensive non-Francophone distribution. It will, however, be a handsome addition to many a socially conscious festival lineup. 

Though there’s still a disappointing dearth of African-focused cinema from emerging indigenous filmmakers on the international fest circuit, Lojkine is the latest of several outside talents to take a sensitive interest in the continent’s social inequalities. With its respectfully urgent tone and keenly detailed research, the film stands comparison with Canadian Kim Nguyen’s “War Witch” and Italian Noaz Deshe’s “White Shadow,” two recent festival sensations that similarly braided unflinching sociopolitical reportage with hard-edged romance. Rich lensing notwithstanding, “Hope” boasts fewer expressionistic flourishes than either of those films. Lojkine previously helmed two documentary studies of postwar Vietnam; he honors his nonfiction roots here with his grounded, observational direction of a non-professional ensemble.

Hope is the chief source of fuel in the arduous cross-country trek depicted in the film. In the least subtle symbolic detail from Lojkine’s script, it’s also the name of the female protagonist (played by the equally auspiciously monikered Endurance Newton), a lone young Nigerian who attaches herself to a group of male Cameroonians heading north. Humiliated and raped by her fellow travelers, she is rescued and subsequently protected by Leonard (Justin Wang), who accompanies her to the bleak migrant ghettos set up on the urban fringes of Tamanrasset, Algeria – a complex, corruption-riddled underworld divided along national lines, with each community ruled by its own unofficial government.

Having refused to join her compatriots, Hope is permitted to remain with the Cameroonians after she marries Leonard in a ceremony administered by the ghetto’s ruthless chairman (Dieudonne Bertrand Balo’o). To call the honeymoon period short would be an understatement. On their wedding night, Leonard literally pimps out his new bride to the highest bidder; prostitution becomes their grim but mutually accepted means of funding their eventual flight to Europe. Lojkine’s perspective on the situation avoids moral judgment or hand wringing: This unhappy arrangement is instead presented as the closest approximation of financial solvency available to the couple. It’s a solution that duly aggravates the controlling chairman and his heavies — particularly when Hope falls pregnant.

Amid unrelenting hardship and violence, the film traces the gradual development of a tender rapport between Hope and Leonard, as their union shifts from one of convenience to one of mutual emotional dependence. It’s this development, enacted with playful authenticity by Newton and Wang, that gives proceedings warmth and depth beyond their journalistic shock value. Both actors, like the entire cast, are real-life migrants discovered by Lojkine while researching the ghettos of Rabat; they are impressive physical performers, their intuitive understanding of the matters at hand more than compensating for minor shortfalls in dramatic nuance. From its ensemble to its production design, no element of the nightmarish story world in “Hope” feels imagined or ill considered.

Interestingly, for all the film’s raw immediacy in other departments, Lojkine steers clear of an overtly gritty verite aesthetic. David Bryant, of Montreal-based hybrid rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor, contributes the pic’s mournful, judiciously applied score. Shot in earthy shades of dusk and dawn, Elin Kirschfink’s serene cinematography doesn’t romanticize the landscape, but does find friezes of beauty in its severity. Extensive nighttime sequences might strike some viewers as overly dark, but their disorientation effectively mirrors that of the characters.

Film Review: 'Hope'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics' Week), May 20, 2014. Running time: 92 MIN.

Production: (France) A Pyramide Distribution (in France) release of a Zadig Films production. (International sales: Pyramide International, Paris.) Produced by Bruno Nahon. Executive producer, Jean-David Lefevre.

Crew: Directed, written by Boris Lojkine. Camera (color), Elin Kirschfink; editor, Gilles Volta; music, David Bryant; sound (Dolby Digital), Marc-O Brulle; re-recording mixer, Alexandre Widmer; assistant director, Justinien Schricke; casting, Amine Louadni.

With: Endurance Newton, Justin Wang, Dieudonne Bertrand Balo'o, Bobby Igiebor, Richmond N'diri Kouassi, Nabyl Fally Koivogui, Henri Didier Njikam, Martial Eric Italien,  Dandy Amienoho Osawaru. (French, English, Arabic dialogue)

More Film

  • Kiernan Shipka and Ross LynchMTV Movie

    MTV Movie & TV Awards: What You Didn't See on TV

    Many of the biggest stars in movies and television — including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kiernan Shipka, Sandra Bullock, Tessa Thompson and Brie Larson — came together to present and receive honors at the 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards, hosted by “Shazam!” star Zachary Levi. And while non-attendees are able to enjoy [...]

  • Johnny BananasMTV Movie & TV Awards,

    'The Challenge' Veteran Crashes MTV Awards Acceptance Speech; Cut From Broadcast

    Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio pulled a Kanye West at Saturday’s taping of the MTV Movie & TV awards when “Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta” won over “The Challenge” in the Reality Royalty category. However, viewers didn’t get to see it. Producers of the show cut out Devenanzio’s speech from Monday’s airing, after the reality star took [...]

  • Zachary LeviMTV Movie & TV Awards,

    MTV Movie & TV Awards Winners: The Complete List

    The MTV Movie & TV Awards returned to television Monday, with host Zachary Levi and a number of pop culture favorites. Dominating this year’s nominations with four apiece were front runners “Avengers: Endgame,” which took home the evening’s best movie award, and “Game of Thrones,” which won best show. The Oscar-nominated documentary “RBG” also scored [...]

  • Olivia Wilde Jon Ham Richard Jewell

    Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm Join Clint Eastwood's 'Richard Jewell' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Olivia Wilde and Jon Hamm have joined the cast of Clint Eastwood’s already star-studded drama “Richard Jewell.” Paul Walter Hauser is set to star as the titular Jewell in Warner Bros.’ pic alongside Sam Rockwell as Jewell’s attorney and Kathy Bates as Jewell’s mother. The drama is based on Marie Brenner’s article in Vanity Fair [...]

  • Where the Wind Blows

    Hong Kong's 'Where the Wind Blows' Sidesteps Protests For China Promo

    Hong Kong film director Philip Yung and his cast were in Shanghai on Monday to promote their upcoming film “Where the Wind Blows.” They revealed new details while cautiously sidestepping — for the most part — the awkward issue of last week’s massive civil protests in Hong Kong against a controversial bill that would have [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content