Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Fan's Look At African Comedy Movies

By Eliza Mendoza

African comedy movies is a fascinating and quirky genre of foreign films. Major players are Nigeria's Nollywood, Yoruba, a people from West Africa, and South Africa. Measured in terms of sheer numbers of films released, Nollywood is one of the world's biggest contributors.

If you are going to close your eyes and leap into a pile of Nigerian film comedies, perhaps "Four Forty, Part I" (2012, Nigeria) may possibly not be the best place to start. Most of the scenes play out in the dusty gardens of a small village where a bored and lazy middle aged man amuses himself in the arms of an innocent teenager who is confined to a wheelchair. Two months later, the girl's parents march her angrily to his front garden and dump her into his custody. While it is not at all difficult to work out what has transpired here, what is difficult is trying to find the funny here.

"The Gods Must Be Crazy" (South Africa, 1980) is the first film in a series set in Botswana. There is one official sequel and three unofficial sequels that were produced in Hong Kong. The film tells the story of Xi, whose tribe is completely unaware of the world that lies beyond. The film stars N!xau, a San farmer from Namibia. The film kicked off a brilliant career in cinema in which he emerged as Namibia's most famous actor. Sadly, N!xau died in 2003 of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis while out hunting guinea fowl.

The Mangler (1995) is a South African/Australian horror film discovered on a list of most popular comedies with origin in South Africa. A folding machine in a laundry is possessed by a demon from hell. The film was directed by Tobe Hooper and based on a story of the same name written by Stephen King. The original short story may be found in "The Night Shift, " King's inaugural collection of short stories. The critics panned the film but, based on the provenance and the synopsis, how can anybody not want to see it?

The Yorubans are a group from West Africa, specifically the southwestern regions of Nigeria and Benin. Over the years, they have emerged as a genre of their very own in African film circles. The most recent offering is "Eko Onibaje" (2014), a story about a man who joins a group of crooks that fraudulently obtain money by posing as disabled.

One of the most important African movies ever made is not a comedy. This is "Yaabo" (1989, Burkina Faso), showing one of the most persistent dilemmas of modern African life. This is the battle between maintaining a cultural identity of its own versus allowing itself to become westernized in the name of modernization.

Another less than funny but not insignificant film was "The Nightingale's Prayer" (1959, Egypt). One of the most salient movies ever made by Egypt, the story is about gender inequality in Arabic culture. Directed by Henry Bakarat, the film represented Egypt in the "Best Foreign Language Film" category in the 32nd Academy Awards in 1960, although the film was not accepted as a nominee.

One particularly awesome facet of African comedy movies is you don't have to book a ticket to Mombassa to see them. Many films are easy to find online for direct streaming. Who knows? Maybe someday, someone find the funny in Four Forty.

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