You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Djon África’

Fiction and documentary mix in the warmhearted story of a young man born in Portugal who goes to Cape Verde in search of his roots.

Filipa Reis, João Miller Guerra
Miguel Moreira, Joana Furtado, Patrícia Soso, Rúben Furtado, Natália Sousa, Isabel Cardoso, Ágata Pinho, Denice Tavares, Leinira Gonçalves, Bitori Nha Bibinha, Da Rosa, Cleide Teixeira, Maria da Luz Ferreira, Fabrizio Veiga, Raquel Monteiro. (Portuguese, Cape Verdean Creole dialogue)

1 hour 38 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7862998/reference

It takes a film as self-aware, warm and open-hearted as “Djon África” to assuage the vexing concerns that often arise with the new generation of docu-fiction hybrids. Where many directors almost perversely toy with viewers’ inability to distinguish between truth and make-believe, Filipa Reis and João Miller Guerra color those gray spaces of uncertainty with real people whose impact on the fictional narrative adds depth and grace to their story of a young Portuguese man of African descent journeying to Cape Verde in search of his father. Keenly aware of how landscape, language and local customs lure us into feeling part of a culture not entirely our own, the film extends a loving hand to the confused lead character as well as to a nation the Portuguese directors know they ultimately can never approach from the inside.

Thanks in part to a slew of festival prizes for their short and medium-length output, Reis and Miller Guerra should be able to attract attention with this, their first fiction feature, though it’s the film’s distinct merits, unconnected to thematic similarities with some of their other works, that will result in much deserved bookings. And who knows, it may even launch a wave of home chefs researching recipes for cachupa, the national dish of Cape Verde.

Miguel Moreira, aka Tibars, aka Djon África, plays a version of himself: a Portuguese-born musician of Cape Verde descent who identifies as African even though he’s never been to the continent. One day after a person on the street tells him he looks exactly like a man she knew in Cape Verde, he asks his grandmother for more information about his parentage. Apparently his father was a real charmer, a con artist with a prison record, but all granny knows is that her son-in-law had a sister in the country’s capital, Praia. With no real plan, Miguel buys a one-way ticket to the island nation.

The directors indulge in a wonderful scene on board the plane, underlying the level of fantasy that’s guiding Miguel’s trip: Following a good-natured discussion with a fellow passenger about whether he can claim to be Cape Verdean when he was born in Portugal, he imagines the plane full of beautiful young women who dance in the aisles and look flirtatiously at him. It’s a terrific way of encapsulating Miguel’s rose-tinted understanding of what he’s going to find once he lands, and even if his experience doesn’t turn out to be quite so affirming, neither does it come as a betrayal.

In Praia he learns his aunt has been dead a year, but she had relations in Tarrafal who might lead him to his father. The journey there is unsuccessful, not least because Cape Verde has two Tarrafals, and he’s in the wrong one. Miguel’s island hopping allows Reis and Miller Guerra to do more than showcase the region’s natural beauty — the distinctive mountains and coastal areas have a primal lure to him that seems a part of his genetic makeup, yet he’s still a foreigner seeing Cape Verde with his own eyes for the first time. The rasta locks he feels make him so proudly African have nothing to do with his parents’ homeland, instantly betraying (along with his accent) his European background, and yet in Portugal he’s also treated as a foreigner. This liminal position, so common in today’s migrant world, has rarely been conveyed so effectively on screen, with such subtlety and gentle understanding.

Moreira played variations on this character in two of the directors’ previous works (“Li Ké Terra” and “Fora de Vida”), so although he’s a non-professional actor, he’s at ease in a role that basically riffs on parts of his history as an in-betweener. The adeptly observational camerawork by Vasco Viana is attractive without exoticizing or turning the film into a travel advertisement, though surely for many an armchair traveler unfamiliar with Cape Verde’s charms, the landscape together with the justly famous local music will induce a yearning.

Film Review: 'Djon África'

Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Tiger Competition), Jan. 26, 2018. Running time: 98 MIN.

Production: (Portugal-Brazil-Cape Verde) A Terratreme Films presentation of a Terratreme, Desvia, OII, Uma Pedra no Sapato production. (International sales: Still Moving, Paris.) Producer: Pedro Pinho. Co-producers: Rachel Ellis, Samira Pereira, Filipa Reis, João Miller Guerra.

Crew: Directors: Filipa Reis, João Miller Guerra. Screenplay: Pedro Pinho, João Miller Guerra. Camera (color): Vasco Viana. Editors: Eduardo Serrano, Ricardo Pretti, Luisa Homem.

With: Miguel Moreira, Joana Furtado, Patrícia Soso, Rúben Furtado, Natália Sousa, Isabel Cardoso, Ágata Pinho, Denice Tavares, Leinira Gonçalves, Bitori Nha Bibinha, Da Rosa, Cleide Teixeira, Maria da Luz Ferreira, Fabrizio Veiga, Raquel Monteiro. (Portuguese, Cape Verdean Creole dialogue)

More Film

  • Nordic Film Market: New Pálmason, Hákonarson,

    Nordic Film Market Selects Latest Palmason, Hakonarson, Hafstrom, Ganslandt

    The 20th Nordic Film Market in Göteborg, unspooling Jan. 31-Feb 3, will showcase 16 works in progress including Hlynur Pálmason’s “A White, White Day”, Grímur Hákonarson’s “The County”, Mikael Håfström’s “The Perfect Patient” and Jesper Ganslandt’s “438 Days.” Iceland is well represented this year with top directors and festival darlings Pálmason (“Winter Brothers”), Hákonarson (“Rams”) [...]

  • 'All These Small Moments' Review

    Film Review: 'All These Small Moments'

    The magic of writer-director Melissa B. Miller Costanzo’s “All These Small Moments” can be found within the intimacy of the scenarios, the authenticity of her earnest characterizations, and the accessibility of the actors’ honest performances. In her deftly polished directorial debut, Costanzo dovetails the primary story about a teen’s coming of age with a secondary [...]

  • Bruce Tufeld Dead: Hollywood Agent and

    Hollywood Agent and Manager Bruce Tufeld Dies at 66

    Bruce Tufeld, a Hollywood agent and manager who once repped stars like Rob Lowe, Laura Dern, and Kelsey Grammer, died Tuesday in Los Angeles as a result of complications from liver cancer. He was 66. The son of respected television announcer Richard “Dick” Tufeld and Adrienne Tufeld, Bruce began his career as an assistant at ICM [...]

  • Bruce Dern

    Film News Roundup: Bruce Dern's 'The Lears' Bought by Vertical for February Release

    In today’s film news roundup, Bruce Dern’s “The Lears” and “Angels Are Made of Light” are acquired, Cold War drama “Stanley Cage” is launched and a documentary about Madonna’s early music career gets a release. ACQUISITIONS More Reviews Film Review: 'All These Small Moments' TV Review: HBO's 'Brexit' Vertical Entertainment has acquired North American rights [...]

  • Octavia Spencer Bryce Dallas Howard

    Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard to Reunite for Comedy 'Fairy Tale Ending'

    Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard will reunite for the ensemble comedy “Fairy Tale Ending.” Jim Hecht (“Ice Age: The Meltdown) and Tracy McMillan (“Marvel’s Runaways”) are writing the screenplay. More Reviews Film Review: 'All These Small Moments' TV Review: HBO's 'Brexit' Howard will also produce the Universal movie through her Nine Muses Entertainment alongside [...]

  • Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at DuArt

    Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at New York's DuArt Film Labs, Dies at 88

    Robert Smith, a longtime executive with New York’s DuArt Film Labs, died Jan. 11 in Montvale, N.J. He was 88. Smith spent some 62 years with DuArt, the film processing and post-production facility founded in 1922 in the penthouse of an automobile garage in Midtown. Smith rose to president of DuArt before retiring in 2015. [...]

  • Bird Box

    Los Angeles On-Location Feature Filming Surges 12.2% in 2018

    On-location feature filming in Greater Los Angeles expanded impressively in 2018, gaining 12.2% to 4,377 shooting days, according to FilmL.A. Production activity for feature films rose 15.5% to 1,078 shooting days during the fourth quarter, with 146 days coming from projects receiving California tax credits — including Netflix’s “Bird Box,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content