Three women and a machete

WOMEN at peace and war. Yara, Lelena and Nayola in a scene from Nayola, on the European Film Festival South Africa, from 12 October 2023. Phtograph courtesy imdb

THE UNCERTAINTY AND wildness of a country in a constant state of civil war comes under the loupe in José Miguel Ribeiro’s astonishing achievement of a film, Nayola. Animated with a deep and convincing understanding of hand-drawn colour and landscape and a respect for the bubbles of air caught in a brush mark which gives energy and spontaneity, this tale of three generations of potent women is unequivocally one of this year’s festival’s most beautiful and moving highlights. You can see it on this year’s European Film Festival, which is online and at cinemas in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, between 12 and 22 October, in eSwatini between 20 and 22 October and Lesotho between 26 and 28 October.

And it is here where we meet Nayola, the eponymous heroine of the tale. With a brutal economy of linework that evokes that of Japanese illustrator Kanako Tanabe, the drawings are both succinct and harsh, as they boldly bring massive warscapes, slums and protest into visual focus. Indeed, in certain ways, this animation is so wild and energetic, engaging and real that some threads and subtleties of the storyline might be compromised because you’re too busy gasping at the wisdom of the drawn lines.

Nayola is a warrior in the Angolan civil war of the 1990s. She fights hard and loves in full. She doesn’t take no for an answer. Her husband is missing. There’s a mystical narrative central to who that husband might be, but you’re left following a pointy-eared wild dog through the devastation of war. Flick-flacking between generations, you get to meet Lelena, an older woman who has seen life and now with her wide body, jaded eyes and short legs, has resorted to sewing and making soup. And then there is Yara, an angry young woman who creates rap that rocks her society into anger and who ducks between loops in the law to remain focused on her mission. They’re linked by blood.

Masks and mask-like faces, babies orphaned before your eyes and an understanding of music from within the time and space in which it takes place, are all elements to this magnificent work that are blended with visual techniques and tricks that lend the work hairpin twists that you don’t see coming. It’s the kind of cohesion of immense skills that should bear the status of cult movie, reaching through time, holding onto the threads of social anger, warfare and injustice, as it does. Relentlessly. Nayola makes you feel alive with the sound of rebellion, purpose and mission in your heart.

  • Nayola is directed by José Miguel Ribeiro and features a vocal cast headed by Catarina André, Feliciana Délcia Guia, Elisângela Rita, Vitória Adelino Dias Soares and Marinela Furtado Veloso. Written by José Eduardo Agualusa, Virgílio Almeida and Mia Couto, it is produced by Ana Carina, Arnoud Rijken and Michiel Snijders and features creative input by Alex Debicki (music), Bárbara Oliveira (visual developer), Leonor Soares (background artist), Pedro Louro (digital compositor) and Jeroen Ceulebrouck (key animator). In Portuguese with English subtitles, it is part of the 10th European Film Festival South Africa, screening at The Zone in Rosebank Johannesburg, The Labia in Cape Town, Gateway in Durban and online from 12-22 October, with satellite programmes in eSwatini from 20-22 October and in Lesotho from 26 to 28 October.

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