Silly, Colourful Lambadina



Lambadina, a film that was released three years ago is making the rounds at theatres of Addis Abeba. The cinematography is its most commendable feature, while its story leaves too much room for improvement. Christian Tesfaye was not nuts about the movie but still felt there is a great deal local films could learn from it, awarding 5 out of 10 stars.


One can never make too good a movie, which is why the field of film criticism, even in the flailing stage it finds itself in, exists. Nonetheless, it is hard to take an axe to every single movie that comes one’s way. It is true that last year’s La La Land was wonderful, but can it ever be seen from the same perspective as, say, Lambadina, a 2015 Ethiopian-American production directed by Messay Getahun.

La La Land could not have been easy to make, primarily for it was a musical, a genre that has long lost its charm to multiplex audiences. But, it is hard to review that movie, with all the professional skill, infrastructure and access to finance it enjoys, the same manner one does an Ethiopian film.

The local ones lack both human and financial resources. They face a slew of discouraging taxes nor is the populace as open to visiting theatres the same way they do their local Internet pirate. Hence, a little bit of discretion for this piece of cinema that has graced the theatres of Ethiopia is due.

The film was released three years ago, and for a movie made in the Amharic language, it is surprising that it has not made the rounds to the one country it is an official working language of.

It is about Joseph, who is played by Messay himself. He is one of those naïve characters that go through several hurdles only to survive through sheer luck, like a newborn or a drunkard. He may just remind audiences of Forrest Gump, the idiot-savant that, without meaning to, became a war-hero, met United States (US) presidents and invested in what he thought was a “fruit company” but was, in fact, Apple Inc.

Joseph’s misfortunes begin when the Dergue regime collapses, and his father, an official, gives himself up to the armed opposition that would later take office. His mother abandons him to the US, while his aunt cruelly disappears after taking him to an eatery. A child then, he aimlessly wanders the streets of Addis Abeba before a couple of non-national investors find him.

They ensure that he gets adopted by another couple, where he grows up with their daughter, Ruth. But even that family deserts him for the US, leaving him to turn to a friend. He finally gets a means of reaching the North American nation, through a Diversity Visa (DV) scheme, settling in the state of California where he searches for Ruth.

The film has some glaring inconsistencies, which are either a bold exercise in the suspension of disbelief or just a lack of carrying out adequate research.

It does not make sense that there are cars on the streets and businesses are open only days after the downfall of a government, after a bloody civil war, as the film depicts. It makes even less sense that the capital’s streets are inundated with Toyota Vitz’s in 1991. Most annoyingly, how Joseph gets to go to the US, by merely changing his name to that of a friend’s who won a DV lottery, is far removed from reality. If the US embassy is that lax in its vetting process of non-nationals who enter the country, then there is a case to be made in President Donald Trump’s worry.

If one could look beyond these bothers, there lies an oft recycled love story about loving and losing. There may be plot-twists in the film, but, let us just say, they are the type only Joseph will not see coming. The dialogue is better than we are used to in most Ethiopian movies, but that is not saying much considering the talent of most of the nation’s scriptwriters. The acting is downright subpar, where a hospital scene, which was meant to be sad, sent some audiences chuckling.

The film is not without its highlights though. A scene when the young Joseph is abandoned by his aunt in a restaurant was devastating. Its construction shows some awareness of the strengths of cinema by Messay. Add to that the film is not as ingratiating to the current regime, EPRDF, in depicting the downfall of the Dergue. Ethiopian movies often portray that crossroad as if it was all hope for the populace, without the uncertainty that follows any violent transfer of power.

And if it were not for the historical inaccuracies early on, the first act would have served at least as an exciting bridge to the less stimulating sections of the movie.

The cinematography and score are what separates the film from most other Ethiopian movies. Warm colours are mostly used, with the camera usually static. I liked the composition and had this not been the case, the acting would have probably come out worse. The score does not stand out, but it does not intrude either, which is more than can be said for most local films.

One more thing Ethiopian movies could take a page out of is how this film is marketed. The promotional posters are professional looking, especially the one that only includes the protagonist (including a smaller still superimposed). And although short on the details about the movie, the film has also a dedicated website, displaying where the film would next be screened. This could go a long way in terms of promotion if local filmmakers only consider it.

Lambadina, though a film that could have used more historians, is a good step forward, at least in production value if direction and narrative storytelling are not up to par. There is hope for Messay, especially if he concentrates his efforts in a particular field, either acting, writing or directing, as opposed to all of the above and diluting it.



Published on Jan 06,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 923]


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