I do not recall ever seeing a movie produced in Angola. For years the country has been torn apart by a deadly civil war which has practically made it impossible for native film directors to materialize their vision. After all when each night you do not know whether or not you would live to see the light of day the last thing on your mind is making films. Yet, the South-Central African nation is producing them.
Screened during the Berlin Film Festival in 2004 Na Cidade Vazia a.k.a Hollow City follows the steps of a young African boy as he roams the dark streets of Angola's capital Luanda. The warlords have taken over most of the country and are now meticulously exterminating those who oppose their will. N'dala (Joao Roldan), whose family has been killed by the guerillas, is hoping to find his way back to the village where he grew up.
I do not know what is more fascinating about Hollow City. Is it the fact that one is given the opportunity to peek into a country which is rarely seen on news networks around the world or the actual story of a boy who has nothing to live for but his dreams. Following the steps of N'dala as he walks through the streets of Luanda is both terrifying and fascinating at the same time.
Like so many films in recent years that have come to recreate the shocking living conditions in South America and Africa (City of God; Yesterday) Hollow City relies more on visuals as opposed to a rich and complex story. In fact, as soon as N'dala is introduced to us it quickly becomes obvious that this will be a road-picture with a predictable finale. Thus the film's greatest strength stems from the raw and unedited footage from the backstreets of a society in a state of free falling.
Maria Joao Ganga, who as I understand is the first Angolan woman to direct a movie, undoubtedly is a force to be reckoned with. The long-continuous shots she seems to favor provide Hollow City with an elegant look which is impressively unsettling given the treacherous locations the film crew had to use. It almost feels as if Maria Joao Ganga was trying to sooth and intimidate her audience at the same time-Hollow City is such a polarized film.
Technically, Hollow City is not any different from most low-budget films that you would find released on DVD. In fact, there are moments when the film appears as something that PBS might approach and consequently air. The final product however is something quite different-the unflinching eye of Maria Joao Ganga does have an impact on how the story is paced and the longer one stays with N'dala the clearer it becomes that this must have been a very personal project for the Angolan director.
I do not know how Hollow City will resonate with North American audiences. I find the film to be an intriguing look, to say the least, at a part of our world which has been either intentionally or unintentionally silenced (the jury is still out as to why the fate of Angola and its people has been left in the hands of a group of corrupt and despicably vile warlords). Needless to say having the courage to produce a film under such extreme circumstances is enough of a reason for me to recommend Hollow City to the more adventurous of you.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's the film appears to have been mastered from a secondary PAL-source. There is some minor "ghosting" and "combing" here which is not utterly distractive but it is nevertheless present. This being said Hollow City has a slightly "washed-out" look: colors are not lush and contrast is rather subdued. I am unsure whether or not this is what the director intended!! This being said, the print does not offer any major damage/marks. To sum it all up the release is most certainly manageable (tubes) but that's about it.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a DD Portuguese track and forced English subtitles the audio is average at best. Once again, given the low budget-look of this film I am unsure if this is intended. This being said the fact that the English subtitles are forced is quite annoying.
The DVD offers a director's statement (in text format) highlighting the history behind the film as well as its intended goal(s). There is also a short director's biography, also in text format, as well as a gallery of trailers for other First Run Features releases (and their Global Lens Series).
A fascinating film to watch, no doubt!! I really like First Run's Global Lens Series as they highlight films that are very unlikely to be seen in North America under any other form. Unfortunately all of the films released under the Global Lens logo so far have been improperly sourced. Still, I believe that they are worthy of your attention even if at the end they do not quite live up to the standards a "recommended" DVD is expected to meet.