- African Metropolis: Six Stories from African Cities
Several of the largest cities in the world today are found in Africa, as it becomes an increasingly urban continent. This fact, and growing interest in urbanism in the global South, makes African Metropolis, a collection of shorts by emerging filmmakers from six cities, especially timely. African cities are sometimes cast as harbingers of a global urban future, as archives of a colonial past, or as a sign of the times, so to speak. Similarly, the relationship that draws together these films from Abidjan, Cairo, Dakar, Johannesburg, Lagos, and Nairobi is not simply the city, but how compellingly each imagines time in an African metropolis.
The collection begins with Jim Chuchu’s Homecoming, an unorthodox take on unrequited love that blurs reality and fantasy. The narrative focuses on Max, a small, unassuming homebody with an outsized admiration for Alina, who lives in the neighboring apartment block. Through nonlinear narration, we leap from Max’s romantic frustration to four fantasies of a future Nairobi where he and Alina grow deeply in love while fleeing a menacing faceless figure. Of all the films in the collection, Homecoming most directly plays with genre as it refashions speculative and futurist conventions. The future the film creates for Nairobi includes alien invaders, space [End Page 322] travelers, and suggestions of a space colony, but it also permits Max to fulfill his desires and reinvent himself through fantasy.
Ahmed Ghoneimy’s The Cave, set in Cairo, centers on Adham, an aspiring musician who reconnects with his old friend, Amr, only to discover that with time comes distance. Amr has moved on from the passion of their youth—music and nightlife—to become an established family man, part of the city’s upwardly mobile population. The film’s cinematography ranges from the notable following shots that navigate the viewer through Cairo’s warren of back alleys to extreme long takes that punctuate the narrative’s first and last shots. The vignette of Cairo that emerges is one of social fragmentation, highlighting the differences between those with a comfortable future and those who struggle only to find dead ends.
In The Line-Up, ten men from the streets of Lagos subject themselves to a ritualized selection in a dark warehouse, where a wealthy woman and her henchman inspect the naked men. One is selected and then disappears. The others are sent home with bulging envelopes of cash, money that the protagonist, Bala, desperately needs to pay for his young sister’s surgery. In the morally charged conceit (and overwrought acting) we can detect the fingerprints of the veteran Nollywood director Victor Okhai and the noted screenwriter Kemi Adesoye. But the short also attests to Nollywood’s dominance as a film culture with its own codes and conventions that continue to govern how stories of Lagos are told.
By contrast, Marie Ka’s The Other Woman, set in Dakar, could be understood as a rewriting of received stories about gender, sexuality, and the forms of women’s freedom. The story details the secret attraction between Madeleine (Awa Sene Sarr of Faat Kiné ) and her husband’s younger second wife, Amayelle. The director’s notes describe this as a story about Madeleine’s self-discovery through an intimacy beyond conventional norms. Colorful, subtle, and tender in bringing its characters to life, the film breaks with the way sex and intimacy in Africa are typically represented. It functions as an updated version of previous stories of women’s self-discovery and women’s roles within multi-spouse households.
The last two films in this collection revisit the past. Philippe Lacote’s To Repel Ghosts pays homage to the memory of the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat and his 1986 visit to Abidjan. The film portrays Basquiat’s visit as a journey of artistic, cultural, and spiritual return to Africa, with the narrative turning on the artist’s struggle with self-doubt, addiction, and longing for connection with the people of Abidjan...