Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

"The way director Emmanuel Gras eases under the skin of his main subject makes for fascinating viewing."

It may not sound the most engrossing subject for a documentary: the harsh life of a charcoal seller in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But the way director Emmanuel Gras eases under the skin of his main subject makes for fascinating viewing.

His method helps the audience to understand the superhuman effort that Kabwita and others like him have to endure to eke out an existence by shifting bundles of charcoal from the forests to the surrounding towns and cities on bikes.

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On any given journey the protagonists can cover hundreds of miles by transporting the huge loads - pushing their loaded bicycles on dusty, unmade roads.

Makala means charcoal in Swahili – and the film follows the process of cutting down trees, building the oven, lighting it and collecting and preparing the charcoal as well as transporting it.

The approach is deliberately slow and unsensational with Kabwita, who was 28 at the time of filming, a natural figure for focus, seemingly unaware of the camera filming his every move from the scenes with his wife Lydie and their plans to build a house to the backbreaking toil of his daily grind.

Gras presents a purely observational odyssey without any narration or outside involvement, which gradually immerses the viewer and communicates Gras’s own passion and intrigue for his subject.

The director says he was inspired by Gus Van Sant’s Gerry, which clearly made a strong impression on him, proving that you could make a film out of very little, particularly connected to walking and, in this case, the effort involved in pushing a heavily laden bicycle for a long time.

Thanks to the film, Kabwita has become a star in his locality, and Gras has helped to build the house he and his wife and had dreamed of for so many years. Happy endings can occur in the least likely situations.

Reviewed on: 01 Feb 2018
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A young peasant makes a difficult journey in the hope of creating a better life for his loved ones.
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Director: Emmanuel Gras

Starring: Kabwita Kasongo, Lydie Kasongo

Year: 2017

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: France

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