Sog.: Maurice Pons, Mario de Andrade dal romanzo A vida verdadeira de Domingos Xavier (1971) di José Luandino Vieira. Scen.: Mario de Andrade, Sarah Maldoror. F.: Claude Agostini. M.: Georges Klotz. Mus.: Ensemble ‘Les Ombres’. Int.: Elisa Andrade (Maria), Domingos De Oliveira (Domingos), Jean M’Vondo (Petelo), Adelino Nelumba (Zito), Benoît Moutsila (Chico), Tala Ngongo (Miguel), Lopes Rodrigues (Mussunda), Henriette Meya (Bebiana), Manuel Videira (capo della Brigata). Prod.: Jacques Poitrenaud per Isabelle Films. DCP. Col.
This restoration is part of the African Film Heritage Project, an initiative created by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, the FEPACI and UNESCO – in collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna – to help locate, restore and disseminate African cinema.
Sambizanga has a sensual aesthetic, conveyed through scenes of everyday life: the couple Maria and Domingos, Maria’s long journeys on foot along dusty tracks, with the mist rising up from the ground, and Maria’s relationship with the child she carries on her back, who is cared for by other women when she stays with friends.
The beauty of the images, and of Elisa Andrade in the role of Maria, drew adverse comments from critics. Sarah Maldoror always stood her ground against such criticism, and its implied clichés about African people (that they are poor, ignorant and starving). “I’m not interested in showing poverty,” she stated, adding, “I prefer to try and find the poetry.” Most of the film’s characters are played by militants of the MPLA (the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and they all speak in their native Portuguese, Lingala or Kimbundu. A rather bold choice, which contributes to the film’s realism: the sewing course that is a lesson in politics, the relaying of messages even in prison, the mobilisation of militants and youngsters to identify Domingos, and the meetings held in the middle of dances. This film is also the story of Maria and her political awakening. Her continual displacement is also Sarah’s, and it defines women in the African diaspora. The complexity of Sarah’s own situation and her relationship with her partner, Mário de Andrade, led to his recurrent and at times prolonged absences from the family home. He was in hiding for a long time from Interpol, and he took on the presidency of the MPLA political movement and the CONCP (Conferences of Nationalist Organisations of the Portuguese Colonies).
In a way, it could be said that the character of Maria becomes intertwined with Sarah’s personal life. Their political awareness; their solitary struggle with their children (Maria journeys with her child on her back, just as my sister Henda and I went everywhere with our mother, Sarah, while the children of the other leaders, Cabral and Boal, were in boarding schools in Moscow or Bucharest); the death of their partner for political reasons; and above all else, their perseverance, despite the obstacles, always forging ahead… The surge of hope in the film’s final scene will remain with us: “Be strong, comrade, he was our friend, our brother, he disappeared in the night, and we will never forget him.”
Annouchka de Andrade