A review by Sushri Sahu for Mashable.
Bantú Mama written and directed by Iván Herrera is a contemporary story that is well-rooted in culture. It stars Clarisse Albrecht who has co-written the pensive film where Africa meets the Caribbean. The story revolves around Emma (played by Albrecht), a French woman of African descent who gets arrested in the Dominican Republic. However, she manages to escape and is sheltered by 3 kids who not only give her refuge but also help her redeem herself. And the best part is- it is not a one-way relationship, it’s a mutual bond which births an accidental family with members who could all use kin. While Herrera does a fine job of bringing out the cultural differences and tying it together wrapped in a universal emotion, it’s Albrecht’s performance that keeps one engaged. Bantú Mama has premiered at the SXSW film festival and is the first Dominican film to be selected for the conference. Read the entire review below.
This is my first Dominican film and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m hungry for more. But that’s the thing about film festivals and SXSW has done us all a favor by including Bantú Mama in its bouquet. The movie is much more and beyond than its synopsis with a premise that is unheard of. IMO, everyone deserves a chance to watch this film about unexpected familial ties and accidental family. Although it takes some time to reach or arrive at the point with a slow-burn narrative, when it does, you’ll realize it’s a journey worth your time.
Bantú Mama is written and directed by Iván Herrera. After winning the Judge’s Choice Awards at the 2016 TIFFxInstagram Shorts Festival with his short film La Pasión Original, Herrera is here to tell a tale that is never not true to its origin and surrounding. The movie is produced by Point Barre, an independent Dominican film production company which has marked its first production with the feature film. The drama is edited by Pablo Chea and Israel Cárdenas, while the cinematography is done by Sebastian Cabrera Chelin. And thanks to their work, the film gains bigger standing in trying to convey the message it wants to tell. In fact, it seems like lead actress Clarisse Albrecht–who not only shares the writing credit but has also served as executive producer of the film–has delved into her own lineage of being a French and Cameroonian woman to bring traits to her character that are too good to be fake. And that’s easily one of the most engaging parts of the film.
French actress Clarisse Albrecht is the anchor on whose shoulders the film rests and she is convincing as a maternal figure to three motherless kids.
Let me take you through it; the film begins with a peep into the life of an Afropean woman, Emma who stays alone in a decent place, dines alone minus the presence of her bird and one who smokes alone in solace. In the first few minutes itself, one can almost feel a sense of peace, borrowing from her own when she perches on the balcony and takes a drag while a plane passes atop. The feeling amplifies even more when she takes a vacation to the Dominican Republic. Sans any background score apart from the white noise of the waves breaking and crashing at the beach. Now, maybe there was no coronavirus to wreak havoc but her stay was not not plagued either.
Soon, she finds herself in a midst of a serious business. She gets a call and the narrative starts to turn with a shift in tone and introduction of palpitating bg score. A change of suitcase later, a nervous Emma is at the airport. The business unfortunately goes wrong and she gets arrested and Albrecht keeps up the frightened yet secretive act through it all. It is evident that the impact of less is more. Some ploys even hit you like a jolt just when you least expect it. It is also then when she escapes captivity and makes a run for her life; a swim in this case. She manages to reach a bank and is found by two kids who take her home. Subsequently her character gives in and starts feeling home in a dangerous district of Santo Domingo. In an example of a profound character arc, she finds a family when she wasn’t looking for one and it’s endearing.
The convergence between the Caribbean and the Motherland happens when Dominican director Herrera takes one through the neighborhood as the characters exchange bits from their descent.
It is then when one gets familiarized with the Santo Domingo – the locality, the food, the music, the dialect and a lot more in more ways than one. And again, it is as genuine as possible because Herrera was born and raised at the same place. But just because he is passionate, he doesn’t self-indulgent and maintains objectivity in his portrayal. Among the things that make the place what it is, he also highlights vices like gun control or drug abuse and problems of community like the standard of living. The narrative leaves no scope for self-pity though, instead it is aware and mindful.
The director also manages to present the most cherished relationship in the most unusual way possible. The kids needed a mother-like figure and she needed refuge, so together they are in a perfect symbiotic relationship. It’s also the cultural exchange for me, especially when Emma speaks about being a Bantu woman. She would like to go back to France given a chance but that doesn’t mean she has forgotten her Cameroon roots that her mother imbibed in her when she was a little girl.
That together with impressing editing and cinematography, it gives one ample to write home about.
As easy as it sounds, giving audiences the cues to react without underlining anything is craft. And Pablo Chea, Israel Cárdenas and Sebastian Cabrera Chelin achieve that perfectly. The coherence even when it’s about different subject is evident and how. Also, the background score towards the end is just cherry on the cake.
All of the above-mentioned together heighten moments of vulnerability that makes the film more wholesome. It also brushes on subjects like toxic masculinity, corrupted systems. It’s also about a sibling’s love for her brother. It’s about maternal instincts of a woman who is not a mother and it’s about a kid who has become a ‘man’ before time. But the film doesn’t spoon feed you; it’s subtle yet strong and that’s the beauty of it.
Most impressive part is the way Iván Herrera connects the dots and serves right what he promised without compromising the viewing experience. In almost an arc-like fashion, it ties back to one’s origin. Having said that, you might want to skip a few beats to look at your phone but don’t. You might miss a whole bracket.