Djon Africa Review
Djon Africa works as a loose-sequel of sorts, returning to one of the real-life people who appeared in the 2010 documentary, Li ké terra. Back then, filmmakers João Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis followed the life of 16-year-old Miguel Moreira, a second generation Cape Verdean living in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. Nine years on and Miguel is now 25, and while the new film often feels like a documentary, the story is entirely fictional from start to end.
Miguel goes by a number of different nicknames and his laid-back demeanour and appearance sees him lazily pigeon-holed and racially profiled in his home city. He was raised by his grandmother and knows nothing of his mother and father, but becomes curious enough to travel back home to Cape Verde to find out more about his lineage. From there, Guerra and Reis’ loose narrative follows Miguel as he journeys round the picturesque country in search of his family and himself.
Before setting off Miguel asks his grandmother about his father who she describes as a “bit of a scoundrel”. Some of those traits are clearly in Miguel’s DNA as he often finds himself dreaming of, or flirting with, young Cape Verdean women and partying until late into the night, sinking down grogue, the national drink sourced direct from sugar cane. It’s a journey of adventure and self-discovery that takes him into contact with a host of characters who each shape his untethered path and direction.
Where the first act feels more like a standard fictional film, the further we travel across Cape Verde, the less structured it becomes. In fact, the form was largely an experiment by the directors found in the edit and that lack of planning certainly comes across. Moreira is a non-professional actor (as is everyone else in the film) and isn’t given much dialogue to play with, so finding an easy way into his friendly character may prove difficult to some.
That leaves a lot on the shoulders of DP Vasco Viana who captures the natural beauty of the country’s landscape and through it a sense of Miguel’s inner-world. There are also moments when Guerra and Reis swerve off into flights of fantasy, such as the old lady who invites Miguel to live on her hillside farm, who we can’t be sure is real or a figment of his imagination. The more Miguel drinks, the looser the film becomes, and while pleasing to the eye, it eventually loses its bearings in the last 20 minutes.
By the end we can’t be completely sure what Miguel has taken from his journey back to his roots, although it ends on a note of confidence that implies he has a new-found sense of maturity and self-belief. Djon Africa works best as a sketched character piece that revels in Cape Verdean culture and opens up a world of discovery that shows how reality rarely matches up to the expectations of our dreams.
Djon Africa opens in select UK cinemas on August 16.