African Shorts at Sundance 2013

Read reviews and previews of African short films at Sundance 2013

Boneshaker | dir. Frances Bodomo  [U.S./Ghana]

Frances Bodomo's Boneshaker opens in a car, although we don't know this until a few seconds in. At first the screen is filled the thrashing and high-pitched screaming of Blessing, a delicate-looking and yet furiously strong little girl played by (youngest ever Academy Award nominee) Quvenzhané Wallis. Lost — both physically and existentially — the family is searching for a church where the spirit that seems to have possessed their daughter can be banished. They hope to perform a homely ritual far away from home. But everything is tenuous: at one point, hopelessly lost, they stop and ask directions; when they find the church they've been searching for it's a tent with only swatches of Ankara hinting at home. The primary tension in the film is between battling this feeling of being unmoored and embracing it. Blessing is constantly running off the road and into woods or bracken; she is captivated by the sky and gravitates towards spaces where the land gives way to the water. If anything, hers is an ecstatic embrace of rootlessness. And this may be the point. In her kickstarter video Bodomo explains that that the film is about:

“People who have spent their lives constantly in motion, constantly moving, and can never, no matter how long you stay in one place, feel like you’re an insider. You’re always going to be an outsider…That to me is a beautiful thing actually […] not being attatched to the warm blanket of the things we put around us like society or home, to make life worth living for some reason. Not having that and seeing that life is worth living is what’s beautiful I think.”

In the final shots the family stands at what looks like the end of the earth, mangrove on all sides. Bodomo's strength is the precision of her cinematic language and her attention to detail. From the muted bleeding colours, to the impressionistic and fluid camera work, everything speaks to the difficult and liberating flux of her characters, the unbelonging that is their state of being.

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