The winner of the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at Cannes 2017, Makala, is an exhibition of human will. Directed by Emmanuel Gras, the documentary-esque film follows the travails of a young man as he sets off from his poverty-stricken household in Walemba, to the bright lights of a bustling city to sell his charcoal (Makala is Swahili for charcoal).
What hits the viewer immediately is the incredible kaleidoscope of colours and the breathtaking cinematography that captures the melange of earthy tones found, more often than not, alongside celestial ones. If the film played out as a sequence of stills it would retain its majesty.
Alas, it doesn’t; the movie follows the mode of a documentary, cataloguing in excruciating detail the minutes of our protagonist’s journey to accrue just enough money to support his young family. Unlike many documentaries, however, Makala is shot strictly in the present; we accompany our protagonist through just a three-day window, without any knowledge of his past, or his future.
What we are left with is a snapshot of a continuous struggle, a documentation of a challenge à la Sisyphus, the man consigned to roll a gigantic boulder up a steep hill every day, only for it to tumble down to the foot of the hill once he approaches the apex. Only, in lieu of a boulder, our protagonist pushes a bicycle loaded with charcoal. Albert Camus once said, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy”, a thought that likely inspired our director, spurning him to mould this young man in the image of an enduring worker, finding purpose in something that appears so futile.
A sombre, plaintive score lends itself nicely to Gras’s camerawork – he handled much of the filming himself – with intense studies of miens and harsh landscapes emphasising the pain and anguish suffered on this journey.
This is a portrait of a struggle and a documentation of the strength of a person’s will, in short, an incredible piece of cinema.
Makala is released in selected cinemas on 2nd February 2018.
Watch the trailer for Makala here: