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Daria Pomponio

Suspended between neorealism and ethnographic documentary, Makala by Emmanuel Gras is an important but unbalanced film. Winner of the Semaine de la Critique of Cannes 2017.

A young man living in a Congo village hopes to provide a better future for his family. As a resource it has only the surrounding bush and a tough will. For a long and exhausting journey with the aim of selling the fruits of his labour, he will discover the value of his effort and the price of his dreams. [synopsis]

The ethnographic documentary is a difficult genre that lives in complex balance between reality and fiction, where the latter, as founder Jean Rouch founds, emerges at the very moment when the director is exposed in front of the reality he wants to tell by machine by modifying it with its presence and with that of its instrument.

There is a slight imbalance in this regard Makala by Emmanuel Gras, winner of the Critics' Corner of Cannes 2016. An important and uplifting work suspended between Bicycle Thieves and Un homme sans Occidente de Depardon, Gras's film follows the the troubles of a young man who lives with his wife and children, under poor conditions (they feed on highland mice) near Walemba, Congo. We look at breaking down a tree, cutting its branches and trunk into small wood chips, then pulling it out of coal, packing it in the sacks and carrying it for over 50 miles on an old hand-held ...

Suspended between neorealism and ethnographic documentary, Makala by Emmanuel Gras is an important but unbalanced film. Winner of the Semaine de la Critique of Cannes 2017.

A young man living in a Congo village hopes to provide a better future for his family. As a resource it has only the surrounding bush and a tough will. For a long and exhausting journey with the aim of selling the fruits of his labour, he will discover the value of his effort and the price of his dreams. [synopsis]

The ethnographic documentary is a difficult genre that lives in complex balance between reality and fiction, where the latter, as founder Jean Rouch founds, emerges at the very moment when the director is exposed in front of the reality he wants to tell by machine by modifying it with its presence and with that of its instrument.

There is a slight imbalance in this regard Makala by Emmanuel Gras, winner of the Critics’ Corner of Cannes 2016. An important and uplifting work suspended between Bicycle Thieves and Un homme sans Occidente de Depardon, Gras’s film follows the the troubles of a young man who lives with his wife and children, under poor conditions (they feed on highland mice) near Walemba, Congo. We look at breaking down a tree, cutting its branches and trunk into small wood chips, then pulling it out of coal, packing it in the sacks and carrying it for over 50 miles on an old hand-held bicycle. When he came to town and sold the goods, the man then thanked God for praying with other faithful in a shed.

Although the action is extremely dilated, Makala is a film that actually uses a lot of narration, starting from its subdivision into three acts: coal preparation, travel, sale of goods, plus the unexpected and release epilogue.

It is also perceived in some dialogues with both the wife and the characters encountered during the journey, and the presence of the director on the places has directed the reality, including in the dialogues both important details to the comprehension of the whole, what explanations of the previous.

It is a beautiful Makala movie, sure, rich in geometric well-balanced frameworks, and sometimes embodies, even aesthetically, the physical presence of the protagonist in space. The Gras camera slides fast in the beginning on the trunk of the tree from which it originates, runs its branches, until it finds its character, seized in a significant pose, or folded on itself in prayer act . The night – time journey, however, has almost graphic signs, where in the sun as a ball of fire slowly descends on the horizon, the director associates similarly in the night the circular car headlights, the rustle of motors, other, it remembers the constant exposure of man to danger. There are also fascinating lensflares, with sunlight ready to cross the camera lens, giving rise to suggestive light refractions. There are also some Western suggestions during the perilous journey, with the fatigue of alternating work at nightclubs around the bonfires, while in the daytime the dust that the character spends on the racing cars gives rise to images with a strong evocative effect.

There is therefore a strong sense of the epic of the work in Makala, which is constantly threatening to overcome that ethics of aesthetics typical of neorealistic cinema, nostrano and no, since Emmanuel Gras exceeds in some too much stylistic self-esteem.

And so, at the end of the games, if our protagonist is a hero of our day or a poor Christ for a long time, he will decide on the finale of the film. After so much sought after realism, the last word is for the director. He has never tried to hide too much.

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