Ariadine Zampaulo’s Maputo Nakuzandza begins with a distressingly bleak sequence: a group of boys approach an open car and peer inside, commenting on an unseen woman’s good looks and attractive legs. They quickly wander off, laughing to themselves, as another couple approaches and then walks past the car, proclaiming as they do that anyone who “dressed like that was probably asking for it.” Finally, a woman enters the frame and gathers a young lady from the car. It’s made clear the girl has been sexually assaulted, and while the remainder of the film juggles multiple perspectives and characters, this initial impression casts a somber pall over the proceedings. Maputo is the capital city of Mozambique (the title of the film translates to “Maputo I Love You”), and this movie is indeed a kind of city symphony. A series of related but discrete vignettes transpire over the course of a brief, 60-minute runtime, as Zampaulo also indulges in elements of the diary film, travelogues, and what are presumably documentary interludes of performance and history. Here, a woman cleaning her small home, a man commuting to work on a crowded bus, and a tourist wandering the city are given equal weight, like a gathering of potential narratives. There’s no further context, no beginnings or ends, and barely any dialogue — instead, a radio DJ provides an ongoing narration, reporting on the day’s events. There’s also the matter of a runaway bride, whom said DJ breathlessly reports on and whom Zampaulo occasionally films wandering around the city. These inserts of a woman in a bright white dress with a billowing train become a kind of poetic punctuation, a dash of the unfamiliar that renders the cityscape just a little stranger.
Of course, this kind of structural gambit — eschewing narrative for a kind of free-form polyphony — means that some moments are more compelling than others. A modernist dance piece performed in various locales and obscured by blurry camera filters is cut too fast to make much of an impression, and a loud shouting match between a woman and her cheating husband quickly becomes interminable. More compelling is a brief tour of a mural that introduces audiences to notable citizens like journalist and poet Jose Craveirinha, poet Noemia de Sousa (affiliated with the anti-colonialist literacy movement Mocambicanidade), and poet Rui de Noronha, as well as the remnants of Portuguese forts and armaments. Another tangent mentions Ngungunyane, a 19th-century monarch imprisoned and then exiled by the Portuguese, and something of a folk hero to modern Bantu people (Portuguese is still the country’s official language). It’s a lot to cram into a brief runtime, and Westerners unfamiliar with Mozambique’s colonialist history (like this reviewer) might find themselves occasionally adrift. All in all, while intriguing, Maputo Nakuzandza feels a little slight. But Zampaulo’s sense of framing and attention to the movement of bodies through space suggest a real talent behind the camera.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 14.