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‘Disco’ Spotlights Madagascar



World premiering out of the Marrakech Film Festival ahead of a wider and promising festival run, Luck Razanajaona’s “Disco Afrika: A Malagasy Story” will offer the cinema of Madagascar its most prominent international showcase in nearly three decades.

The feat didn’t come easy — or quickly — for the Malagasy filmmaker, who graduated from Marrakech’s ESAV film school in 2011 and then spent more than a decade crafting award-winning shorts while developing his first feature. Throughout that long development period — which eventually brought the filmmaker back to Marrakech for a slot at last year’s Atlas Workshops — Razanajaona honed and refined this story of a barely post-adolescent sapphire miner who returns to his native village in search of identity.

Among the many challenges was the simple question of period: The fact is, given Madagascar’s shatteringly predictable holding pattern, the narrative of dashed hopes and calls for reform could take place at any interval from the 1970s onward.

“I wanted to show Madagascar’s cyclical crises,” Razanajaona tells Variety. “Because every 10 years, the same things always happen: Uprisings lead to failure. The years of independence were a failure, so maybe it’s up to young people to take back a little hope of changing things. [That’s why,] instead of becoming a fighter, the main character takes up his history and national memory.”

That character is Kwame (newcomer Parista Sambo), a young miner who flees to his home village following tragedy, haunted by the ghosts of those he’s left behind. Some of those phantoms are esoteric and others made literal and embodied on-screen.

“Disco Afrika: A Malagasy Story”
Marrakech Film Festival

“Madagascar is not a superstitious country, but it is accustomed to living with the dead,” Razanajaona explains. “We have many traditions, and a lot of legends about the dead coming back to life. In fact I’ve always had this fantasy in my head, so I wanted to thread those people into the edge of the film. It was important for the character to have some contact with the beyond, with all those who have already left.”

“In the beginning, they can be terrifying,” the filmmaker continues. “But at a certain point, they appear as something real and benevolent — and that was important too. The ghosts look after you.”

Kwame’s late father haunts by way of absence, with the missing musician leaving no trace, no body, no grave — nothing but a single LP of 1970s flavored Highlife. Familial, musical and international inheritance all overlay as Kwame — so named in honor of Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah — discovers the legacy of Pan-Africanism.

“Disco Afrika: A Malagasy Story”
Marrakech Film Festival

“I really wanted to reconnect with the continent, because, in fact, we don’t at all consider ourselves Africans,” says Razanajaona. “We tend to forget that we’re attached to this great continent, and that we’ve played such a big role giving this continent its grandeur. We played a major role in the liberation of Mandela, for instance, but we’ve kind of forgotten that history.   

“That means that I first needed to show how Malagasies see themselves today, given that they suffer from our country’s political problems,” he continues.

Without shying away from depictions of violence and corruption, “Disco Afrika: A Malagasy Story” rarely raises its voice above a whisper, settling on a placid tone anchored by an unmoving camera. All the better for the audience to really engage with the story.

“I want people to sit back and watch,” says Razanajaona. “It’s a bit old-fashioned, but for me, all you need is a fixed camera and the actors’ emotions to make the film work or not. The style is also an extension of our inertia. People are fixed in their ways as events happen around them. You can feel the social violence every day, but I also wanted to show there’s the spirit of hope, showing this gentleness through the mise-en-scène.”

Luck Razanajaona
Marrakech Film Festival


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