'Air Conditioner' ('Ar condicionado'): Film Review | Rotterdam 2020

International Film Festival Rotterdam
Jose Kiteculo in 'Air Conditioner'
Very chill.

The debut fictional feature by Angolan director/co-writer Fradique world-premiered at the long-running Dutch festival.

A breezily off-beat affair from the West African coastal nation of Angola, Air Conditioner (Ar condicionado) should beguile and captivate those able to adapt to its idiosyncratic rhythms and humor. A highly accomplished and promising first full-length fictional outing for U.S.-trained mono-monikered multi-hyphenate "Fradique" (a.k.a. Mario Bastos), this magical realist tale set and shot in bustling capital Luanda is buoyed by a quite outstanding original jazz-inflected soundtrack by Aline Frazao, whose renown already stretches beyond her continent's shores.

Frazao's contributions will help open festival doors for this confidently handled picture following its world premiere at Rotterdam, where it arguably wouldn't have looked out of place in the main-slate Tiger Competition. Fradique's gently freewheeling slice of science-fiction-inflected urban strangeness instead bowed — somewhat surprisingly, given its quality and charm — in a non-competitive section of the event.

The wacky premise of the screenplay, co-written with cinematographer Ery Claver (also making a promising feature debut), is that many of the air-conditioning units, which help cool buildings across tropical Angola, have simultaneously developed a severe fault: they abruptly come loose from their wall fittings and plummet to the ground. Numerous injuries and even fatalities have resulted, as we hear in a radio news broadcast in the opening moments of the film proper. This follows a confident and striking titles sequence displaying photographer Cafuxi's atmospheric monochrome images of the Atlantic-facing metropolis, home to some eight million people.

Over the course of the next hour or so — the end-credits roll at the 68-minute mark — we're guided around the city's vibrant, neighborly downtown. Claver's widescreen steadicam images follow lanky, easygoing security guard Matacedo (Jose Kiteculo) on his odyssey to pick up a malfunctioning air-con unit from a notorious repair shop. At several junctures his path crosses that of maid Zezinha (Filomena Manuel), whose foul-tempered employer is the owner of the faulty appliance — their lengthy conversations make up the bulk of the picture's relatively sparse spoken dialogue.

Matecedo is also able to communicate with certain folk using telepathic methods, their chat related only by subtitles. One of several Lynchian touches here (as when Matecedo is gnomically informed "the thing you're looking for, you'll find it in a TV set"), it's also a rather nifty and economical way of smoothing out performance-levels among inexperienced and non-pro actors. These characters' supernatural talents are presented in an utterly matter-of-fact manner, in a film that is solidly grounded in quotidian detail.

With a background that includes music videos, shorts and documentaries, Fradique (who studied film in New York and San Francisco) takes a deadpan, nonchalant stance towards material that could easily have been presented in more elaborate, sensational ways. Whatever "special effects" the film boasts, for example, are unapologetically and appealingly lo-fi.

This approach yields cumulative dividends, including a particularly delightful sequence at the much-discussed repair shop run by the enigmatic, mad-scientist-like Mr. Mino (David Caracol.) It's Mino who apparently reveals the secret of the hazardous air-conditioners, which turns out to be simultaneously absurd and profound. The answer to the riddle touches obliquely on ecological considerations as well as Angola's complex past as a Portuguese colony and its recent bloodshed during the 1972-2002 civil war, subject of Fradique's 2015 documentary Independencia. "This is the land of grieving folk," intones rapper Tito Spyk, "inheritance of the exploited."

Matecedo's status as a war veteran is mentioned on several occasions, with implications that he may be suffering from a form of PTSD. In any case, he's an engagingly laid-back protagonist, guiding us through Fradique and Claver's gently surreal labyrinth. Their construction has the logic and pace of a dream, vividly realized as an evocation of crumbling inner-city scruffiness punctuated with lyrical, poetic grace notes and interludes of heightened visual and aural intensity. Crucial to its impact is Frazao's intelligently interpolated, percussive soundtrack, which augments jazz traditions by deploying relatively unfamiliar instruments such as the fliscorn, dikanza and kissanje. Air Conditioner is Frazao's first score for a movie. It will not be her last.

Production company: Geracao 80
Cast: Jose Kiteculo, Filomena Manuel, David Caracol, Sacerdote, Tito Spyck, Filipe Pali
Director: Fradique
Screenwriters: Ery Claver, Fradique
Producer: Jorge Cohen
Cinematographer: Ery Claver
Production designer: Prudenciana Hach
Editor: Zeno Monyak
Composer: Aline Frazao
Casting directors: Ely Claver, Fraqique, Prudenciana Hach
Venue: International Film Festival Rotterdam (Bright Future)
Sales: Geracao 80, Luanda, Angola (info@geracao-80.com)
In Angolan Portuguese
No rating, 73 minutes