Neptune Frost

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Neptune Frost
"Set in a futuristic Rwanda, the themes are as old as the hills - with colonialism, identity and self-determination chief among them." | Photo: Courtesy of Director's Fortnight

There's no denying there's plenty of imagination running riot in this Afrofuturist musical from sometime rapper, poet and actor (to name but three of the multiple strings to his bow) Saul Williams, directed alongside his partner, Rwandan star Anisia Uzeyman, who also takes on cinematography duties. Visually arresting, politically geared and achieving quite a lot with good old fashioned fluorescent paint and make-up, it is nevertheless so overcomplicated when it comes to plot that it quickly threatens to become exhausting.

Set in a futuristic Rwanda, the themes are as old as the hills - with colonialism, identity and self-determination chief among them. If you've come for the plot then you - like around a dozen people at the Vilnius Film Festival screening I attended - are likely to soon vote with your feet. The crux of it revolves around two main characters. Neptune, whose voice-over tells us they were "born in their 23rd year", which hints at an identity shift confirmed by the role being played by two actors, Elvis “Bobo” Ngabo and Cheryl Isheja; and Matalusa (Bertrand Nintereste), a miner who, after the death of his brother, finds himself on an unexpected odyssey. Neptune is also a computer hacker and as they embark on a trippy romance with Matalusa, thoughts about modern technology, exploitation and rebellion will all come to the fore.

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You can feel Williams' poetic streak running beneath everything, not least in the large amount of word play - although when you strip back a lot of the allegory, the underlying message, oddly reliant on puns and which reminded me of a less intricate Ridley Walker, feels rather simplistic considering the visual imagination elsewhere. However, if it's the look of the thing you've come for, you won't be disappointed. Leaving aside the almost comical 'flight' of a bird that is clearly just being held up to the camera and threatens to kick you out of the film every time it appears, everything looks glorious, with costumes hovering somewhere on the edge of cyberpunk and New Wave. The music, meanwhile, draws on everything from traditional African beats to modern rap and finds strength in rhythm and repetition. Chants from the miners or lines of dialogue are repeated as they forge new connections, inviting those who are going with the flow to open their minds to possibility. Rebellion like this is by turns unruly and exhilirating but your mileage may vary.

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2022
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The love story between an African intersex runaway and a coltan miner, and the virtual marvel born as a result of their union.

Director: Anisia Uzeyman, Saul Williams

Writer: Saul Williams

Starring: Eliane Umuhire, Eliane Umuhire

Year: 2021

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: US, France, Rwanda


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