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ADIFF Review: Social-Realist ‘Diego Star’ Anchored by Issaka Sawadogo’s Layered, Splendid Performance

ADIFF Review: Social-Realist 'Diego Star' Anchored by Issaka Sawadogo's Layered, Splendid Performance

For its 22nd edition to be held in Manhattan starting today, November 28 through December 14, 2014, the New York African Diaspora International Film Festival (ADIFF) will showcase 89 films spanning 43 countries including 47 US and NY Premieres. Among the films set to have their New York premiere in ADIFF 2014 are films featured in international film festivals such as Toronto, Montreal, Durban, Rotterdam, Palm Spring and Los Angeles Film Fests including  the Canadian/Belgian drama “Diego Star,” helmed by Frederick Pelletier, starring Burkinabe actor Issaka Sawadogo. Below is our review of the film…

Issaka Sawadogo remains a mystery here in the States, but you ought to pay attention – his work has been profiled on S&A a few times in the past (HERE and HERE) – because the Burkinabe actor is bestowed with serious acting range. 

Somewhat of an imperious aura – a burly and imposing physique – Sawadogo’s transparency in his transformation on screen, and ability to get lost in his characters are impressive: he’s courageous; he’s resilient; he’s bellicose; he’s content; he’s affectionate; he charms; he intimidates; he weeps; he’s scared. And you connect with him, intimately, while watching him. 

The versatile actor cemented his appeal internationally in Nicholas Provost’s provocative film “The Invader,” which caused a stir as it traveled the 2011 film festival circuit for his performance as an African immigrant who becomes obsessed with an affluent white woman, and who resorts to stalking her after she ends their affair. 

And now, as star of the Canadian/Belgian drama “Diego Star,” helmed by Frederick Pelletier, Sawadogo continues to garner critical acclaim as the film’s film festival tour continues, playing a Russian ship engineer from the Ivory Coast unjustly blamed for the ship’s failed engine. 

The ship is stranded off the coast of Canada during the bitter winter, and its Russian owner is quick to place enormous pressure on Traore and his crew, comprised of other immigrants, who are now under scrutiny to take full responsibility for the ship’s mechanical failure, in order to avoid becoming ostracized by the ship’s Russian management. 

Conflict arises when Traore resists pleading guilty for a crime he didn’t commit; he contends that he has been warning the management that the ship is old. 

A rather observant “Diego Star” social realist drama, the heart of the film lies in Traore’s relationship with Fanny (a very believable Chloe Bourgeois), a 20-something woman, and her infant son. The single mother agrees to house the sailor, a stranger – one of several housed with the general population while the ship is being investigated – as a means to earn extra income. 

Fanny – a bit taken aback initially by Traore’s warm and kind disposition, especially towards her son – is practical about the situation, and she is somewhat aloof towards the sailor.

Their relationship dynamics spur some rather engrossing and touching sequences, which aren’t contrived. 

Fanny doesn’t have much support, monetary or familial; she begins to appreciate, warm up to and trust Traore, who is estranged from his very own family. Unwittingly, these two characters form a sort of surrogate family, which, thankfully, and unpredictably, isn’t founded on romance. 

Their need for support and connection is very real and palpable. These characters, understatedly, convey complex human emotions, especially Traore, as his character lends a hand in the care-taking of Fanny’s son. He isn’t just a roommate. It must be confusing for a man in that situation, especially one from a traditional background, yearning for a family, and in a vulnerable space. He isn’t the man of the house, really; alas, their situation is confusing for her to, as the climax of the film suggests. 

Broader, the narrative deals with the harrowing exploitation of immigrant workers and subsequent grave social injustices they face. Traore’s integrity and pride won’t allow him to lie in order to keep his job; he will resist at all costs, literally. 

“Diego Star” is disheartening in its grim realism; it isn’t a hopeful film about “the truth setting you free,” or about reigning justice. But it is a moving drama anchored by Sawadogo’s layered, splendid performance.

Making its New York premiere, “Diego Star” screens at the ADIFF on Thursday, December 11 at 7:30pm at the Quad (NYC).

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