Max and Mona

By Teddy Matera

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In a South Africa still marked by the violence of the apartheid and affected to the core by AIDS, death roams everywhere. When young Max leaves his village for Johannesburg, he is given a goat which, by mistake, happens to be the sacred goat of the village. It brings him luck: he has the power to trigger tears in funerals when people no longer know how to cry, in a country where it is believed that if one does not cry, the dead won’t be able to enter the world of ancestors. This lines his opportunist uncle’s pockets, who makes a flourishing trade out of it, which doesn’t solve his problems with the gangsters who extort his last deniers. Evolving in this shady gallery of characters as shifty as they are extreme, the film is both serious, comical and lunatic. It was awarded the Oumarou Ganda Prize for the Best First Film at the 2005 Fespaco. It reworks the codes of advertising and of the punchy music video with a very personal style, a way of introducing a new and different cinema, less consensual and more disturbing. Readily playing on the perspectives and vertical lines that high and low angle shots and filters come to reinforce, Matera creates an eye-catching image that connotes comic books. As the film was not yet subtitled at the Fespaco and at Khouribga, the two festivals where I saw it, the spectators remained captivated by the first part even though they didn’t understand the language. The irruption of more talkative passages in South African pidjin, difficult to understand, broke the spell, but didn’t stop people from staying. The furious urban musics also dictate the film’s rhythm, while inserts announce the stages of the irresistible rise of the « king of tears » who will also be the one who laughs last! Burlesque comes into every sequence while derision conveys the core of the story and depicts the milieu.
Mona the goat is dubbed as such by a passenger of a bush-taxis because it can’t stop bleating (Mona˜ to moan). Sacred, it cannot be killed. Far from being a secondary character, it represents the permanence of a culture that has not yet had its last word (« When the goat is present, there is no need to bleat in its place », said Ahmadou Hampâté Bâ). This profoundly modern and urban film that deals head-on with death, so present in its society, inscribes the question of mourning in the customary practices in the same way that Ramadan Suleiman’s Zulu Love Letter does with the question of reconciliation. South Africa no doubt needs to go there for the rainbow society’s political discourse to find the breeding ground needed to assert its credibility.

Translated by Céline Dewaele.///Article N° : 6699

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