'Things of the Aimless Wanderer': Sundance Review

Courtesy of Sundance International Film Festival
A willfully obscure allegory directed at a niche-of-a-niche audience

Three episodes depict the uneasy relationship between contemporary Africa and the West.

In a 10-point "director's statement" regarding his new Things of the Aimless Wanderer, writer-director Kivu Ruhorahoza says: "Am I afraid of winning the 'Most Pretentious Film Award'? Yes, a little. But, damn, it feels good to work on my terms, improvise, dare." He may well deserve that award at this year's Sundance, with an obstinately cryptic trio of stories clearly intended as metaphors for relations between his native Rwanda and the Western world. Those willing to meet Ruhorahoza more than halfway, though, may find an intellectually if not emotionally bracing statement about Africa's place in the modern world. That likely audience is very small, making Things obscure even by art house standards, but may well be influential enough to open art-cinema doors for the filmmaker's future efforts.

"Aimless wanderer," we're told, refers to European explorers, and each episode here involves a blue-eyed white foreigner (Justin Mullikin) playing an uneasy role in the African communities where he has found himself. In each of three very loosely-drawn stories, he interacts with a black woman (Grace Nikuze) and is suspiciously watched by a black man (Ramadhan Bizimana). The stories are introduced with titles identifying each as a "working hypothesis" about the "true story" of a girl's disappearance.

It takes little imagination to conclude that the three actors, who play related but different characters each time around, are giving life to metaphors. But the action and dialogue are so oblique that sussing out how to read each story requires some imagination.

Unfortunately, viewers disinclined to do this work have little reason to stick around through the movie's 77 minutes. Though handsomely photographed (considering its budget) and acted with apparent conviction, the film offers little of the narrative illusion animating most successful allegories. Perhaps, of course, Ruhorahoza will see that statement as the kind of do-things-our-way prejudice against which he has set himself.

Production company: Moon Road Films

Cast: Justin Mullikin, Grace Nikuze, Ramadhan Bizimana, Eliane Umuhire, Wesley Ruzibiza

Director-Screenwriter-Director of photography: Kivu Ruhorahoza

Producers: Kivu Ruhorahoza, Antonio Rui Ribeiro

Editor: Antonio Rui Ribeiro

Music: Daniel Biro

Sales: BGP Film Inc.

No rating, 77 minutes

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