ZIFF DAY 4: Guinea-Bissau impresses with dark, cautionary tale feature

Zanzibar’s thought police were their eager Beaver selves yet again issuing their edict about blacking out the steamy scenes in the dark drama The Thorn of the Rose. This cinematic wonder, a Portugal-Guinea Bissau collaboration is mostly a cautionary tale against those that leave unresolved issues with the dead. Its leading man prosecuting attorney David Lunga’s success is overshadowed by the terrifying secrets of Rosa, a beautiful but mysterious woman he falls in love with. Abortion, a paedophiliac cop and David’s desire to face his demons take us on a 97-minute journey into near-voodoo, discomforting sex and bloodied scenes in this aesthetically-shot and well-paced feature. Director Filipe Henriques is awesome while interspersing Catholic symbols of Mother Mary and voodoo. Clever screenwriting filled with subtext finishes off the movie. An able portrayal by leading lady Ady Batista who was at the screening made this Lusophone thriller worth a second viewing that by-passed the zealous Zanzibari censors albeit in a closed hotel conference room.


Now if there was anyone pushing the envelop of matters religious, it was our own Ntare Mwine with his caustic short feature Kuhani. It is a parody of Uganda’s recently passed Anti-Homosexuality Act. The film didn’t raise that many eyebrows here because it is mostly a dialogue-less film comprising a montage of cross-dressing men, a kapintos wrestler on the beach and Mwine as a dog-collar wearing priest crisscrossing Africa from sandy beaches to sandy dunes. His cinematic style is that of the “selfie” which in itself is very defining in how the film is told. Of particular note is a sound bite of leading Ugandan anti-gay activist Pastor Martin Sempa playing over visuals in which Priest “Mwine” navigating a vehicle over a potholed road. That’s quite a telling symbol mostly for those that believe social service delivery should take precedence over rabid displays by moral/ cultural zealots. 

Race issues get a universal treatment in David Cecil’s Bye Bye Mzungu. If you recall, he is the artsy Briton that was deported from Uganda over his gay-themed stage play The River and the Mountain. In Bye Bye Mzungu, a bitter middle-aged white man that has been in Africa for six months meets a smart young local woman. She defies his stereotype, his sense of superiority and challenges his distrust of Africans. That she penetrates his cynical exterior is what gives this film its cinematic credentials even as Cecil continues to berate himself for making a trashy movie. His self-effacement makes you wonder why he talks down the effort. Not since Alex Mukulu’s stage musical in 1992 has the “haughty mzungu versus accommodating locals” issue been given such treatment. Cecil is quick to add that his seven-minute film was only but a trailer. I can’t wait to see how he treats this issue via a full-length feature.  

Text: MOSES SERUGO (serugo@gmail.com) 


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