27 January 2007

A Mozambican Movie Premiere

Last night I went to the Mozambican premiere of a Mozambican movie - O Jardim do Outro Homem (The Garden of Other Men). Deborah, from the US Public Affairs Office, had an extra ticket and asked if I wanted to go. É claro! I love the movies, plus it was an opportunity to see one made locally.

I felt a bit under dressed when I arrived. I had just come from a volleyball game and only had time to rinse off and throw on a clean button-down shirt. Of course, many of the attendees were members of the diplomatic/cultural corps, the local artistic community, or cast members, and showed up in fancy casual to cocktail party clothes (no tuxes thank goodness). Gigliola Zacara, the female lead, had a beautiful capulana style dress in gold and black African print.

If the stage lights didn't blind us on the red carpet showing the way into the theatre, the multiple photographers with their blinking flashbulbs finished the job. I believe one photographer got a great shot of me fiddling with my contacts. Well, good thing that won't make the papers back home.

The story portrayed in this movie is unfortunately common in many places in Africa - not just Mozambique. A young woman, from a modest background, dreams of becoming a doctor. She needs to past a test, and do very well, in order to gain a spot at university. Her teacher will only give her a good grade if she sleeps with him. Hovering in the background and shadowing the entire story is the spectre of HIV/SIDA. Dum-dum-dah... Will she do it?

Through a series of day-dream sequences and a visit to the hospital, the viewer learns that Sofia really wants to become an Ob-Gyn and deliver babies. But achieving this goal will not be easy.

In Carvalho's film, Sofia's struggle to get into medical school at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane brings her into conflict with her football-playing boyfriend, her hard-working family, and, of course, her biology teacher. Fortunately, she finds support in her friends at school, a female teacher, a doctor who is the sister of one of her best friends, and her family - especially her grandmother.

During an important biology test, Sofia's teacher catches her passing along answers to a friend. The evidence, written on an eraser, is used by the teacher as a lever to get Sofia to have sex with him. Sofia really needs to pass this test in order to take a future university entry exam. She doesn't want to submit to the teacher though. Every attempt she makes to get advice from family and friends is foiled. She even travels to South Africa to visit her father only to find that he is dying. In the end, Sofia makes the only choice she feels she has.

I won't spoil the ending completely, but this is neither a French film or an American movie. That is to say, the ending is neither completely tragic or satisfyingly happy. It is hopeful.

I would definitely recommend seeing this movie or renting it from NetFlix. The story and acting are good. Plus, the cinematographer does a fantastic job giving the viewer a sense of Maputo - how people live and carry-on their day to day lives.

One further note for all the ethnobotany nerds that might read this review. Sofia's surname, Macuacua, is the Ronga name for the Black monkey orange (Strychnos madagascariensis). This tree is a member of the Loganiaceae family and the pulp is usually eaten as a paste. The flavor is initially sweet, but the aftertaste is reminiscent of rat poison as it contains strychnine. And yes, I have eaten it.

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