African films at the Documenta and in the cinema: Isaac Nabwana’s “Football Commando” and Amjad Abu Alala’s Islamism-critical parable “You will die at 20”.
Anyone who thinks they know their way around film history rarely has the entire globe in view. The best thing about documenta fifteen is a film from Uganda, Isaac Nabwana’s surreal action art Football Commando. The farce about the German soccer star Rummenigger (that’s really what the subtitles say), who gets involved in a kidnapping on a holiday trip to his wife’s home country in Uganda and hits gangsters with deadly headers, cools heated debates refreshingly: artistic invention triumphs over cultural ones Appropriation in a film that beats Tarantino at his own game. Rarely has one seen the parameters of genre films so imaginatively dismantled and celebrated at the same time.
The films from Nabwana’s Wakaliga studio, known as Wakaliwood, are still an insider tip in the Kampala slums outside of Uganda. There, in turn, they are considered a loving alternative to the market-dominating entertainment films from Nigeria. Nabwana, who has already made entire feature films for 200 dollars, was able to invest modest German subsidies here for the first time – and they have rarely been better invested (can still be seen during the entire duration of the exhibition in a cinema specially built in the Documenta hall).
Film culture in Sudan is also being reinvented, after a long period of suppression by radical Islamic rule. The arte media library is currently showing “Talking About Trees”, Suhaib Gasmelbari’s semi-documentary road movie about a group of elderly filmmakers who occupy a cinema to leave their country with a cinematic culture.
Now one of the few Sudanese feature films is coming to the cinema. “You will die when you are 20” is the name director Amjad Abu Alala has given to the eighth full-length film in the film history of his north-east African homeland. In a country where you can only see Arabic cinema and Hollywood films, it must nevertheless appear exotic.
In elegiac wide-screen pictures, he tells of the growing up of a boy on whom a priest imposed the prophecy of the title at the celebration of his birth. The child, who is supposed to die at the age of 20, is avoided by peers and his father takes flight. An overprotective mother sends him to a sheikh in the Koran school – in the hope that a sin-free life can break the curse. In fact, as the taciturn loner’s faith grows, so does his resignation to fate. Despite all attraction, he does not touch a girl who falls in love with him. Only when she gets engaged to someone else and it’s too late does his world structure finally crack.
Should it really be possible that spookiness disguised as God’s word can develop such power in an otherwise life-affirming village community? Can people succumb to such morbid nonsense and at the same time happily order crates of Coca-Cola from the kiosk where the boy works? Yes, even the sale of alcohol is tolerated.
Only two older men are allowed to speak against the wind: the grumpy father returning home, for whom his wife uncomplainingly clears the patriarch’s place. And a former documentary filmmaker, who shows the boy the past beauties of Khartoum on 16mm before the Islamists took power (the short film of the same name by the documentarian Gadalla Gubarras from 1960 is shown, one of the few classics of Sudanese cinema; for the filmmaker it is both a homage and a proud self-positioning ). But not even the young man can drive out the belief in his own death on his 20th birthday.
Of course, the power of self-appointed Islamic scholars in such an absurd matter is only symbolic. Amjad Abu Alala’s film is a parable of a frozen nation, and in the current military dictatorship – even if it regularly crushes demonstrations – it was at least possible to make it. But a really free film was never made. Clearly inspired by the classics of Egyptian and Iranian cinema, his aesthetic gaze seems strangely out of date. Of course, it would be difficult to create a more lively film about such an introverted, even anti-life hero, but the tasteful style with its warm, bright colors and the minimalistic, harmonious soundtrack is not the real problem. Rather, it is the image of women within a socially critical tableau that also reserves the few islands of the subversive for men.
As the young man sees the day of his prophesied death approaching, he forces his own body on the grieving widow of his older friend. Fortunately, scenes in which women give in to an unwanted sexual offer are largely taboo in world cinema today. But this unpleasant moment is not used here to dismantle the character of the hero who finally wants to become a sinner. On the contrary, one cannot help but get the impression that his interest in the older woman is intended to arouse sympathy.
But just as individual moments of happiness can succeed in enchanting entire films in the cinema, problematic moments sometimes pull entire films with them. Film number 8 in Sudanese film history will certainly be followed by even more important works.
At 20 you will die. Sudan 2019. Directed by Amjad Abu Alala. 105 mins
can be seen in the Documentahalle for the duration of the exhibition.