Friday 14 October 2022

A Unanimous Gold Mine Of Subtext

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if Sun Ra and Samuel R. Delany had tried to make The Matrix, the answer is something like Neptune Frost.
Burudian rapper Kaya Free (AKA Bertrand
) gives a compelling nuanced performance
as Matalusa in Neptune Frost
(Image via the Facebook Page of Saul Williams

A collaboration between alternative hip-hop artist and provocateur Saul Williams and Rwandan artist and playwright Anisia Uzeyman, Neptune Frost is structured in alternating segments between a story following a coltan miner named Matalusa whose brother is killed while mining coltan in an open pit mine, and an intersex runaway named Neptune who flees from an attempted sexual assault. Neither of them fits into the systems at play in the communities they call home, and through this, the viewer is challenged to find parallels between the oppression of gender conformity and the oppression of standard capitalist employment relationships.

The ability of each of these narrative threads to engender empathy hangs on superb performances in these two roles; Matalusa as played by Kaya Free and Neptune who is played alternatingly by Cherylel Isheja and Elvis Ngabo.

Finding each other when they join a revolutionary anti-capitalist hackers collective, Matalusa and Neptune discover that their relationship warps the fabric of reality and may provide the key to freeing society from the grip of a rapacious mining company and an authoritarian regime.

But a simple plot summary does not begin to convey what makes the movie so unusual and compelling. The central characters’ journeys through this imagined future Rwanda and Burundi shimmers between differing states of existence; musical understandings of the world and cinematic explorations. It’s … a lot to work through.

Additionally, given that it’s a multilingual movie whose dialogue is in parts spoken in Kirundi, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, French, and English, and given that some of the subtext depends on puns in the various languages, it is the sort of cinema that takes some generosity, imagination, and effort to parse.

Although the movie can be opaque and obtuse at times, what is clear is the criticism of capitalism, of colonialism, and of exploitation. This is a movie about an anarchist, anticolonial rejection of heterodox narrative conventions.

This carries through to the exuberant and kaleidoscopic visuals that are elevated by found-item and repurposed set construction. This world is built of broken, discarded, and recycled computers and technology, evoking a punk aesthetic; handmade yet high tech.
Creators Saul Williams and 
Anisia Uzeyman. 
(Image via Facebook)

Although it opened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2021, it’s eligibility for the Hugo Awards was extended at the 2022 WSFS business meeting, so it can be nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 2023. And it deserves your attention. 

Although the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation has a long history of celebrating works that are already successful, several nominations in other categories show that Hugo voters are interested in works that represent cultural perspectives other than North American.

In an era when mainstream science fiction movies have embraced safe and comforting fare, experiencing cinema that dares to offer non-traditional narrative structures is refreshing.

Currently available for purchase on various streaming services (YouTube, Apple+, GooglePlay), this challenging, multilayered, perplexing, beautiful beat poem of a movie is probably the most interesting piece of science fiction cinema to have arrived from Africa since the 2009 release of Wanuri Kahiu’s Pumzi.

To quote Neptune Frost itself: this is a Unanimous Gold Mine.

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