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When Are Films Political? Angola’s The Great Klapy

When Are Films Political? Angola's The Great Klapy

I am a devoted fan of Zézé Gamboa, the director from Angola whose film The Hero, which premiered in Sundance in 2004, gave me a view of Africa, and particularly of Angola, which filled me with love and wishes for its well being.  Since then I have stayed in touch with his producer Fernando Vendrell awaiting his next film.

Here it is in Toronto:  The Great Klapy offers a witty and compelling portrait of the last decade of Portuguese rule in Angola and incisively depicts the world of wealth, glamour and insouciance in which the elite class moves against the background of the colonial regime’s collapse. Colorful, charming, and featuring an authentic soundtrack of the country’s rich Angolan music from the 1970s, The Great Kilapy is a vivid testament to the vitality of African cinema, though from what I hear, it is not “typical” in any way.

The producer Fernando Vendrell says, “Our film, a period film that happens in the late 60s/70s, is based on a true character and events that happened during Portuguese Colonial period.  The main character is a mulatto young man that reached a wealthy life taking money from public tax office (from the Portuguese fascist government).”

Here is the setting:

Joãozinho (Little Johnny) was a phenomenon in his time.

As a promising young Angolan of mixed blood, he studied engineering in Lisbon, where he picked up the social skills of the power elite in the fascist government, then suffered a broken leg for two-timing a minister’s daughter.

The secret police also had it in for Joãozinho because he was popular with fellow students working to incite revolution.  They get nothing from interrogation but pack him out of Lisbon and home to Angola.

His father calls in a favor to place him at the Colonial Tax Office in Luanda, where Joãozinho artfully pockets money skimmed off transactions to fund a luxury lifestyle and support his friends in the growing liberation movement, even as he takes no part in it.

He frequents the best tailors, drives a fancy car, steps out with beautiful women and develops a reputation for always buying drinks for everyone in the house.

Joãozinho’s recklessness remains unflappable; but his prestige in the community grows only to the point where his behavior becomes intolerable to the establishment old guard.  

In the Angolan language of Kimbundu, kilapy means scheme, fraud or swindle.

This film is not a typical African film in any way.  It played to a sold out crowd in Toronto today.  It is not polictical and yet, it is political.  It is about an engaging black man who does not hesitate to stchup any good looking white female around.  The reaction of the ruling class is not as vicious as it would be in the U.S. in the 60s and 70s, but, that is partly because this film a a light hearted look at a lovable guy who likes good times during a time of dictatorship and a colonial war of independence.  While Fernando says, “It’s not evident that the film is linked with current political events in Angola. I should say the film is not carrying this message, but can help the process to reflect about some contemporary issues in Angola through an historic background”.  We both found it ironic that the New York Times recently featured this op-ed article on the state of Angola today, just to bring things home:

“Growing Wealth, Shrinking Democracy” by Rafael Marques de Morais, N.Y. Times, August 29, 2012.

But in summary, this is not a political film;  it is a film for fun and enjoyment.  Congratulations to ZeZe and Fernando for bringing it to us!

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