Skip to main content

TIFF Review: Akin Omotoso's Man On Ground


TIFF Review: Man on Ground
Written & Directed by Akin Omotoso
Starring: Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Fana Mokoena, Fabian Adeoye Lojede, Makhaola Ndebele, Bubu Mazibuko
Cinematographer: Paul Michelson
Editor: Aryan Kaganof
Sound: President Kapa
Music: Amu
Country: South Africa
Year: 2011
Language: English, Yoruba, Sotho, Zulu
Runtime: 90 minutes


Still Screening:
Saturday September 17, 2011
Isabel Bader Theatre, Toronto
9:30pm


Man On Ground opens to dungeon-like corridors and the sounds of torture - or so you think, but no one is telling the whole truth in this story, including the filmmaker, who keeps his story cards close to the chest, revealing it only in bits and pieces and much of the time in hindsight. It's a skilfully told drama about one brother trying to find out what happened to the other against the backdrop of rising zenophobia in South Africa.

There are recurring images of fire, matches lighting, that you won't understand the significance of until the very end, some scenes that are more symbolic than literal, and others that describe background rather than acting as pieces in the puzzle of the central mystery of what exactly happened to Femi, a Nigerian worker in the construction site at Extension 29, an "informal settlement" in the Eastern Cape region.

Ade, the older brother, goes to meet Femi at a cafe, and after a no-show, he's contacted by Femi's fiancée, who's worried sick. Ade agrees to go to Extension 29 to look for Femi, and from here the story begins to unravel. Ade is long estranged from his brother, and has his own dark history with his sibling, but he's only the first character among many to have secrets and hidden agendas, including the construction site foreman where Femi was working, his wife, and assorted locals. It turns out the area's inhabitants live largely in shacks, waiting for government housing that's due to be given to them for free - but then is mysteriously sold to foreigners instead. It's become a hotbed of strife and conflict, with riots and killings and a pervasive hatred of foreigners, and those dancing flames that consume half built houses.

This is the filmmaking of a master storyteller and it works on many different levels. The story unfolds visually in a series of contrasts - the contrast between Ade's urban comfortable life and Femi's scrounging as a street vendor. Femi's voice in a voiced over letter talks about the pretty South African countryside as we see people setting buildings on fire. Talky scenes cut back and forth with the violent action of the protesters.

It's also a very economical form of storytelling. The courtship of Femi and his fiancée takes places over a few quick yet telling scenes. "Are you legal?" she asks. "Legally a refugee," is the answer. In a single line, Ade reveals the deeply felt childhood jealousies at the roots of their estrangement.

Recurring images and symbols foreshadow in unexpected ways, and I was particularly impressed with the use of sound in the film. The fires - even a match lighting a smoke - crackle with a malevolent life all their own, the sounds alternating with a great musical soundtrack. Together they serve to both move the story along and underpin the plot. The visual elements also work hard to reinforce the overall tone, especially the cavernous and mostly empty schoolhouse that acts as the construction office. The haunted nature of an abandoned institution works well with the displaced sense of truth, and the hollow nature of public institutions in this violent landscape. The actors turn in entirely convincing portrayals of these conflicted people, without a false note between them.

The story comes to a tragic conclusion, but one that you really won't guess at till the end. It's an absorbing story and a really nicely made film with a highly accomplished and developed sense of style.

Comments

  1. Beautiful movie about an ugly subject.
    The cinematography crackles with poignancy.

    The story is told in chunks of magnetic dialogue that suck the viewer into the political and humanitarian milieu that is heavily relevant to South Africa and the world.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for posting, makes me want to watch, but Im a fan of Akin and all the stars so will watch anyway!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great review of this film. how does one go about getting a DVD copy for the general public? I would like to get a copy, if it's not too expensive. Best, Edwin

    ReplyDelete
  4. I can't seem to find it on DVD anywhere - it only just premiered in September at TIFF, so I suspect it may not yet be available.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

What Else Is Hot This Week?

FACTORY presents World Premiere ACTS OF FAITH November 19 to 28 2020 - Free Livestream

 From a media release: World Premiere FACTORY presents  ACTS OF FAITH by David Yee Directed by Nina Lee Aquino Starring Natasha Mumba November 19 – 28, 2020 @ 7:30PM Streamed live for 6 performances Free of charge TORONTO (October 19, 2020) - To kick off its groundbreaking 2020/21 season, Factory presents the world premiere of acts of faith, by multi-award winning Asian Canadian playwright David Yee, directed by Nina Lee Aquino, and starring Natasha Mumba. Written specifically to be performed for a digital platform, acts of faith will stream live to audiences at home for six performances, November 19-28, 2020.  Thanks to the generous support of the TD Bank Group, admission is being offered entirely free of charge to audiences across the country and beyond. acts of faith tells a story about the power of faith, the inescapable persistence of our online identities, and the nature of truth in a digital age. The story follows Faith, a young woman who gets mistaken for a prophet. When a ques

Blues Single | Bushwick Blooze Band: Waiting (Independent / 20 October 2020)

Blues Single Bushwick Blooze Band: Waiting (Independent / 20 October 2020) Stream It From Your Fave Service Waiting is the latest in a string of singles released by Bushwick Blooze Band. The Brooklyn-based blues trio have been performing and recording the blues around the NYC area since 2018. Their first album "Cryin' for the L Train" was released in January 2019, and included covers of famous songs composed by their greatest influencers such as Little Richard, The Allman Brothers Band, Freddie King, and Eddie Vinson.  Bushwick Blooze Band is finishing up the production of their second album "Yes Dear" and unlike the previous cover record, this new album will be their first original contribution to the genres they love. Waiting is an upbeat blues track with a party kind of veneer over solid musicianship. What begins with a classic blues feel transforms into an extended psychadelic flavoured trip. Inventive guitar licks almost make you forget about the virtuosity

Blaise La Bamba & Kotakoli November 7th 2020 Online - PWYC

 From a media release: Batuki Music Society and Alliance Francaise Toronto present A virtual concert featuring Blaise La Bamba & Kotakoli November 7th 2020 at 8:00 PM Enjoy the concert from home! K inshasa’s vibrant nightlife has long been world-famous. It is home to the subculture known informally as the Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People (SAPEUR), which has spread its influence through artists such as Papa Wemba. Blaise La Bamba is part of this scene. He has worked with some of the top names of Congolese music, in particular General Defao. I n 2018, Blaise La Bamba founded Kotakoli , an all-star collective of musicians that perform an energetic mix of Congolese rumba and soukous . In the company of Kotakoli, this veteran musician brings Congolese popular music back to the forefront, with spellbinding dances. The Details Date: Saturday November 7th, 2021  Blaise La Bamba and Kotakoli Virtual Concert Time: 8:00 PM Tickets: Pay what you can This concert is offered to you

CD Release: TriBeCaStan's New Deli Breaks the Time/Space Continuum in New Deli (Feb 7)

From a media release: New Release from Little Known Government of TriBeCaStan : Capital New Deli Found to Have Irregular Time-Space Continuum EverGreene Music - February 7, 2012 TriBeCaStan: News Alert. This morning Aljazzeera reported that the questionable nation of TriBeCaStan ( www.tribecastan.tv ) has made scientific breakthroughs in time travel. The unrecognized republic of nomads has broken the code of the time/space continuum. And by broken we mean: it no longer works. Applying sonic techniques once only known to a small group of punk rock shamans, the nation's most prestigious scientific entity, the TriBeCaStani FolkLorkEstra, uses sound alone to simultaneously place listeners in eras separated by decades and terrains separated by oceans. The breakthrough is outlined in an auditory compendium titled New Deli (distributed by the state-run EverGreene Music, set for release February 7, 2012 ), a recording that allows the world to experience a type of soulful networking mor

Jazzy Pop: Shihori - Soul Trip (Independent / 4 September 2020)

Jazzy Pop: Shihori - Soul Trip (Independent / 4 September 2020) New York City based singer and songwriter Shihori's new single Soul Trip is atmospheric and ambient. Interesting rhythms and interwoven melodic vocal lines showcase jazzy harmonic progressions in a slow groove mode.  As a songwriter, she uses electronic effects with impeccable musical taste. As a singer, her flexible vocals range from a sweet soprano to a strong mid-range. A veteran of the Japanese pop scene, Shihori moved to New York City in 2018, a move she talks about in a media release. "I was so surprised when I came to NY for the first time. Independent and strong women are respected and there are lots of different preferences in music and style. I thought, 'oh my God! This place really accepts uniqueness and freedom! I didn't know there is a place like this totally different world that allows you to be yourself. Everybody looks so different. So many races, colors, cultures, fashion, ideas...I am so