Exceptional visual storytelling is a gift. Text becomes secondary as the camera’s eye works overtime. By incorporating compelling visuals with rich, atmospherically detailed sound design, audiences are made to look at surroundings from an entirely different perspective.
Kabwita Kasongo leads us through Southern Congo countryside as twigs and dry brush snap underfoot and wind ruffles leafs overhead. Taut back muscles ripple while he chops down a massive, gnarled tree. Alone. With an ax. Strikes reverberating in dry, still air, the resonance of his emotional fortitude. Chickens cluck outside when Lydie, her face absorbed in concentration, removes thorns to the melodious cadence of their voices discussing the family’s future home: how many rooms, what trees to plant. A toddler-filled kanga tied on Lydie’s back swishes carrying undersized chopped wood; Kabwita pants, straining under his load. The shovel’s blade tears squares of earth to crust over piled wood; later, his eyes squint during days-long slow burning. Quietly, confidently they bag crisp pieces of charcoal. In darkness, a friend helps Kabwita overload toppling bags onto an old bicycle to the music of noisy neighbor kids. Before daybreak he’s trekking over mostly rough terrain to Kolwezi, a town 50 kilometers (31 miles) away. Fighting to keep the bike steady Kabwita’s slight frame quivers, pushing it while praying for strength. Staggering up a soft red-dirt road, I yearn to jump up and help him. At that point, I realize I’m completely drawn into this film.
MAKALA’s story seems simple enough – making and selling charcoal. But it’s much more powerful. Documentarian Emmanuel Gras’ camerawork is exceptional and inclusive, and sound design’s encompassing; we share space with our protagonists. In one scene, he reaches a wide, sun-bleached busy graveled roadway. Kabwita’s continually checking traffic, his face taut with concern as dust swirls over him; tires hiss spitting gravel while the camera moves from behind, along his left side and ahead of him. Nothing is forced: Karen Benainous’ editing is measured, Gaspar Claus’ music complementary. Before allowed to enter Kolwezi, financially struggling Kabwita’s forced to pay toll to a thug. Gras’s stark reminder concerns unchecked globalization, and unimpeded power that should concern one and all.
Introducing renowned Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s unconventional film is a Northern Renaissance painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (The Hunters in the Snow; Dutch: Jagers in de Sneeuw). Slowly passing in/out of the frame are cawing crows, lowing cattle, and a barking dog as raspy wind nuzzles curling smoke from a snow-clad cottage chimney. A story amidst life transforms Kiarostami’s self-taken photographs and Masters paintings, twenty-four in all. One-frame = 1/24 of a second in celluloid length. 24 FRAMES is Kiarostami’s delicate framework for a final gift to audiences; Ahmad Kiarostami completed the film following his father’s death July 4, 2016. Many frames echo Bruegel’s deep winter landscape, some early springtime. Wafting through several frames is music: bygone, softly minimal or a woman gently singing. Most are throbbing, alive with nature’s natural rhythm. Horses frolicking, a speedboat, pigeons cooing and sea gulls squawking; pounding waves, birds singing, rain patter then drumming on lions mating; cats, gunshots, bleating sheep and howling wolves, deer, and fog-smothered cows bells as livestock shuffle pass. Color, black/white, and color bleached frames; a preciseness of distinctive, pulsating and graceful sound design. Each frame’s a lesson: take time to look, and truly see the stories that surrounds us infinitum.
After 24 FRAMES, taking a break outside in sunlit midmorning fresh air I hear gut-wrenching sobs. Turning my head in that direction, I lock in on that frame. A young female is crumpled in the grassy area between street and sidewalk. Cars/bicyclists stream by. A group of mostly guy-students boisterously pass, oblivious to the unfolding drama. Next, a middle-age jogger toting coffee-to-go, and some chattering gals. A lone girl hesitates, continues. A young male enters the frame and squats, quietly talking to her—lover’s spat? Body language says otherwise. She listens, her agitation decreasing. Gesturing, she replies. Glancing down, my watch tells me the next film starts in minutes forcing me to abandon one drama for another. Life is, after all, one frame at a time.