Air Conditioner is a beautiful, thoughtful work of easygoing charm and surprising intellect.
As far as cinematic representations of heat go, Ernest Dickerson’s work on Do the Right Thing remains undefeated, with its yellow tint capturing brick buildings and asphalt streets that seem liable to melt or combust at any moment. It’s the palpable heat of a Brooklyn summer recreated so precisely that even touching the screen seems inadvisable. Angolan director Fradique’s first fiction feature Air Conditioner is, like Lee’s film, about heat, but the mononymous director and co-writing cinematographer Ery Claver don’t opt for the same approach as Dickerson, instead utilizing a plainer, blue sky look to their exterior shots in Luanda. Different heat calls for different technique; not only is Luanda’s climate drier than Bed-stuy’s, but it’s also hot all year round, so a heatwave might be more taken for granted. The filmmakers instead locate the climate in the glint of sweat on the heads that litter their milieu and in the film’s languid pace, in no hurry to reach the end of its 70 minutes. And then there’s the strange premise: air conditioners throughout Luanda keep falling out of windows.
Housemaid Zezinha and security guard Matacedo are tasked with recovering the air conditioning unit of their asshole boss, who pops up only briefly to throw a tantrum. We follow Matacedo, mostly, as he leisurely tracks down and drops off the busted AC at a disreputable repair shop that Zezniha describes as a black hole. Along the way he stops to play bottle cap checkers, sharing a meal with the other players and spectators, in no rush to repair his boss’s comfort. The air conditioners falling from the sky are, in their way, symbols of luxury: the comfort of a bourgeois class built on the backs of working people like Matacedo, a veteran of Angola’s 27-year-long civil war. When the units fall from the sky, causing momentary discomfort for the owners, they fall onto the heads of those below as radios count the rising death toll from air conditioner accidents. Fradique’s approach to class politics is casually incisive and never overbearing. Matacedo knows better than to overwork himself for the sake of his boss, but two younger workers fight for the right to carry the AC back up the stairs. Class solidarity, or simply shared understanding, is expressed through one of the film’s surreal touches in which Matacedo speaks to other men telepathically.
The film’s opening, which presents multiple definitions of both “air” and “conditioner” before defining “air conditioner,” initially plays as too cute, but in gently playing his hand — you see, it’s not just about cooling units, but also about how the ruling class conditions the air the working class lives on — Fradique gives this short film room to simply exist and pleasurably meander along to Aline Frazão’s jazzy score. There’s no shortage of beautiful moments either, like a dream sequence triggered when Matacedo gets a taste of air conditioning thanks to an engineless car that exists only for cool air. And what does the working man dream about when asleep in a car? Falling asleep in another car. Air Conditioner is slight in appearance but expansive in the viewer’s mind, a thoughtfully political work of easygoing charm bolstered by a welcome touch of magical realism.
You can currently stream Fradique’s Air Conditioner on Mubi.