‘Another Day of Life’: Film Review | Cannes 2018

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
A punchy, spectacular hagiographic hybrid.

The experiences of war journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski in 1970s Angola are brought to the screen in a combination of animation and documentary.

In Another Day of Life, the Portuguese word "confusao" is used to describe the anarchy and chaos of the conflict zones through which its hero/journalist moves. Featuring 60 minutes of animated feature, 20 minutes of interviews, live action and footage, and 80-plus minutes of hagiography of that journo, Ryszard Kapuscinski, this loose, dramatically high-risk adaptation of Kapuscinski’s same-title account of his involvement in the Angolan conflict could also have ended up being very "confusao." But instead it cannily draws its various strands together into a visually striking piece of rare immediacy and power, one whose refreshingly unsimplified, pragmatic message — that wars, though terrible, may sometimes be necessary — could, despite the film's flaws, push it out into the international art house.

Despite a few scattered accusations about how he may have fictionalized his work, the Pole Kapuscinski, who died in 2007, has a claim to be one of the great writers on international conflicts and their human victims, and Another Day of Life is determined to consolidate his legacy. We first meet him in the convincingly rendered, war-torn Angolan capital of Luanda in 1975 following the collapse of the Portuguese regime: “When the middle classes moved out, I moved in,” Kapuscinski wryly notes. Against everyone’s advice, he’s determined to travel to the front line in the south, where he seeks a meeting with the legendary rebel leader Farrusco (Youssef Kerkour).

On the way, Kapuscinski (voiced by Kerry Shale) and fellow journo Artur (Daniel Flynn) witness the aftermath of a horrific road massacre, again powerfully imagined. At this point we get to meet the real Arturo, now an elderly man who, years later, is traveling the same route. “I lost my peace forever that day,” he tells us. The pair are saved from likely death by a guerrilla, Carlotta (Lillie Flynn), who from then on becomes the film`s heroine: Kapuscinski basically adores her, and so do we. Following this setback, Arturo returns to Luanda, leaving Kapuscinski to make his way toward his showdown with the strangely isolated Farrusco, whom later we’ll also meet in person.

Where the "confusao" is felt, totally appropriately, is in the film’s atmospherics: fast-moving, urgent, chaotic and messy. Several luridly imagined scenes of dream, reflection and imagination apart, this is a straight-up war movie with an anti-war message, the subject matter allowing Nenow to combine action with tangential reflections on the dark side of the soul much as he did in his much-lauded short Paths of Hate. Sections of Kapuscinski’s original text are quoted verbatim and stand out as such for the quality of their ideas, while events are mainly based on what Kapuscinski recounts — for example, how in Angola in 1975 giving the wrong greeting at a checkpoint could cost you your life. It's in the chilling details like this that Another Day of Life is at its most disturbing.

Visually, the film is rarely less than spectacular, using 3D CGI techniques to create multi-layered, persuasively fluid and crisply detailed motion capture-based imagery: Whether it’s taking in sweeping aerial shots or the flies buzzing around a dead body in the road, it’s redolent of Waltz With Bashir in its combination of the comic illustration aesthetic with a heightened attention to realism. It’s also, of course, a video game aesthetic, casting Kapuscinski as the hero with a mission — but before we get too comfortable with that idea, there’s always the live-action testimony to remind us, like Waltz With Bashir’s controversial final shots, that what we’re watching is actually history, of the kind best avoided in future. The editing of Raul de la Fuente (who is also co-director, co-screenwriter and co-lenser) between animated and documentary scenes is virtually seamless, creating the sense that each strand of the film is a commentary on the other.

Given the format, Another Day of Life is about as faithful as it can be to the political complexities of the time, and so to the spirit of Kapuscinski’s book, with the script efficiently getting into place the abbreviations representing the various political groups, including the FNLA and the MPLA whose side, broadly speaking, Kapuscinski is on. (One of these abbreviations, unsurprisingly, is "CIA.")

What's lacking, though, is much psychological nuance. Kapuscinski, whose journey from journalist to fully-fledged writer the film charts, is presented as pretty much a stereotypical action man, hard-smoking, hard-living and generally hard-boiled, and despite his richly imagined dreams and visions and his affection and respect for Carlotta, this remains the viewer’s dominant perception of him. It’s a monodimensional view of the writer that isn't aided by the sometimes ropey “this is war, my friend” dialogue that he spouts.

Ironically, it’s the secondaries, simply by virtue of being there on screen as flesh-and-blood people looking back as Kapuscinski cannot be, who have the greater psychological depth. You walk away from Another Day of Life with the nagging sense that its focus on Kapuscinski, who was after all merely the recorder of these terrible events, leaves the film’s real heroes looking slightly consigned to the margins.

The idealistic (and probably idealized) Carlotta in particular, who dreams of having children when the war is over, is a terrifically evocative, romantic figure. Her smiling face, beaming out from old black-and-white pictures, is both inspirational and tragic; in a sense, Another Day of Life is actually her film. And there’s a world of learning to be had from the recollections of the now-elderly protagonists and their present-day attitudes to the events of 40 years ago. Even though the structure of Another Day of Life will not allow us to, we could listen to them for hours.

Production companies: Platige Image, Kanaki Films, Puppetworks Animation Studio, Animationsfabrik, Umedia, Walking The Dog, Wuste Film
Cast: Luis Alberto Ferreira, Artur Queiroz, Joaquim Antonio Lopes Farrusco, Kerry Shale, Daniel Flynn
Directors: Raul de la Fuente, Damian Nenow
Screenwriters: Raul de la Fuente, Amaia Remirez, Niall Johnson, David Weber, Damian Nenow, based on the book by Ryszard Kapuscinski
Producers: Amaia Remirez, Jarek Sawko, Jaroslaw Sawko, Ole Wendorff-Ostergaard
Directors of photography: Raul de La Fuente, Gorka Gomez Andreu
Art director: Rafal Wojtunik
Editor: Raul de La Fuente
Composer: Mikel Salas
Casting directors: Malgorzata Adamska
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Special Screenings)
Sales: Indie Sales

86 minutes