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

  • 'Shazam!' Review: Zachary Levi is Pure

    Film Review: 'Shazam!'

    In “Shazam!,” Zachary Levi brings off something so winning it’s irresistible. He plays a square-jawed, rippling-muscled man of might, with a cheesy Day-Glo lighting bolt affixed to his chest, who projects an insanely wholesome and old-fashioned idea of what a superhero can be. But he’s also playing a breathless teenage kid on the inside, and [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Showrunners, Screenwriters Back WGA in Agency Battle, Sides to Meet Again Tuesday

    More than 750 showrunners and screenwriters have backed the WGA’s battle against talent agencies taking packaging fees and other changes to the rules governing the business relationship between agents and writers. The letter of support issued Saturday is significant because of the immense clout showrunners and prominent screenwriters possess in Hollywood. Several showrunners had recently [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: 'Us' on Track for Second-Highest Debut of 2019 With $67 Million

    Jordan Peele’s “Us” is on its way to scaring up one of the biggest debuts of 2019, with an estimated $67 million from 3,741 North American locations. Should estimates hold, “Us” will be able to claim several milestones: the highest debut for an original horror movie (the biggest launch for any horror pic goes to [...]

  • NF_D_JGN-D6-2160.cr2

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content