Guinea is the only African country whose official language is Spanish. However,
it still will not be able to submit the first feature film produced entirely
within the country for foreign language Academy Award consideration, because
the overwhelming majority of its dialogue is in English. Still, the Equatorial
Guineans can work towards other milestones, like improving its rankings on
Freedom House’s index of civic rights and Reporters Without Borders’ measure of
press freedoms. Political realities are scrupulously ignored, but the country’s
desperate poverty offers a handy path to redemption in Rudolf Buitendach’s Where the Road Runs Out (trailer here), which screens
during the 2014 San Diego Film Festival.
Mensah is one of the world’s foremost experts on crop fertility, but the
Rotterdam-based scientist is stuck in a boozy rut. When his old do-gooder
friend Cheese finally dies from his enlarged heart (nobody can miss that
symbolism), he heads to Equatorial Guinea to take stock of the research station
and orphanage he thought he had helped underwrite. However, when he reaches the
remote community, he finds ramshackle buildings instead of the state-of-the-art
facilities he expected. Their mutual friend Martin may have some explaining to
“Mr. George” reluctantly gets involved with Jimmy, an annoyingly heartwarming
orphan, given a leg brace for extra added heart-string pulling. He also
haltingly courts Corina, the orphanage’s headmistress. She is not a nun, but
she had more or less resolved to live that way, until Mensah turned up.
De Bankolé (recognizable from many Jim Jarmusch and Claire Denis films) is a
powerful screen actor, who ought to get more opportunities as a leading man (he
happens to be married to Cassandra Wilson, so at least he gets to hear a lot of
great music). Despite some slapsticky moments, he maintains his presence and
dignity as Mensah, but this will not be the film he shall be remembered for.
Juliet Landau and Stelio Savante provide decent support as Corina and Martin,
respectively. However, there is way too much precociousness going on for safe
adult consumption. There is a rule here against singling out young actors for
criticism, so let’s just leave it at that.
There are some perfectly nice sentiments in Road, but its manipulations are not
exactly subtle. Cinematographer Kees Van Oostrum makes the countryside sparkle,
but the day to day realities of Equatorial Guinea are actually quite grim for
those who are not connected with the government. It is a conspicuous blind spot
that makes it hard to give the film the love it so obviously craves. Only for
diehard Bankolé fans who do not mind some easy sentimentality, Where the Road Runs Out screens again
this afternoon at the SDFF and will next play the Heartland Film Festival on
October 18th, 20th, 24th, and 25th.
Labels: Equatorial Guinea, Isaach De Bankole, SDFF '14