Crisis? What crisis? In Nantenaina Lova‘s debut film, The Malagasy Way, one hears residents of Madagascar (Malagasy is the adjective referring to the country) speak of life after “the crises,” but never actually complaining about the political and economic turmoil that has rocked the island nation for years. They’d rather focus on making a go of the here and now — a spirit Lova clearly appreciates, and one that will endear this bare-bones, gently upbeat doc to festival auds.
Taking a strict observational approach, Lova offers no scene-setting introduction, never identifies his subjects and follows no easily discernible structure. (Short scenes and plenty of dialogue ensure that this will not test the viewer’s patience, as films of this sort sometimes can.) But themes emerge early on, chief among them being the Malagasy people’s fondness for folk proverbs. A young man begins the film by spouting a few of them directly to the camera, somewhat confusingly, but they pop up everywhere; the more memorable, like “a crab moving diagonally isn’t cursed,” speak to the notion that one shouldn’t expect a life without hardship, and that hardship needn’t make one unhappy.
A genial doc, refreshingly free of hand-wringing
On paper, the film’s appreciation of these impoverished people’s resourcefulness and resilience might sound like condescension, but there’s hardly a trace of that here. This is, after all, the way Lova’s interviewees describe themselves. Off and on, the director follows a group of musicians planning a kind of morale-boosting concert whose traditional format has been tweaked to reflect contemporary social mores. In performance, their spokeswoman uses courtly language to praise the Malagasy people for being “ingenious, hardy and thrifty.” We hear similar talk from scavengers who turn enormous heaps of bone into soap; who dig through trash dumps to find things they can sell (who knew that old plastic gas cans are useful to people making hats?); and who make shoes out of car tires that are dirt cheap and far more durable than those imported from other countries.
“It’s the Chinese who produce everything,” says one of the junkyard craftspeople here, “and we, the Malagasy, fix everything.”
Production companies: Endemika Films, Laterit Productions, Autantic Films
Director: Nantenaina Lova
Screenwriters: Nantenaina Lova, Eva Lova
Producers: Nantenaina Lova, Eva Lova, Marie-Clemence Paes, Agnes Bely
Editors: Jeanne Moutard, Nantenaina Lova
No rating, 80 minutes