The Musings of a Cinematic Globetrotter

Wea Nao Mi? (Solomon Islands, 2012); Looking for Nelao (Namibia, 2015); Icimonwa (Zambia, 2016)

As I said in the last post, this time I’ll be discussing three short films that deal with issues of identity and memory. In each of these films, the main character awakens to find himself lost in one way or another, and we watch him try, successfully or unsuccessfully, to regain his bearings.

Wea Nao Mi?

Directed by a team of artists (Charley Piringi, Moses Au, Kerrie Jionisi, Neil Cassidy, Regina Lepping, Francis Bele, Glen Deni, and Sosimo Narasia) from a collaborative filmmaking group called Wantok Stori, Wea Nao Mi? (“Where Am I?”) begins with a man named Wane (played by Moses Teikai) walking through the Solomon Islands forests of yesteryear with his uncle. Along the way, Wane finds a golden pocket watch. His uncle gives him a Subi (a traditional Solomon Islander protective weapon), but Wane is more interested in the watch.

Entranced by it, he lies down and places it over his heart before sinking into a dream. When he awakens, he finds himself in an unfamiliar city, twenty-first-century Honiara, surrounded by Pall Mall packs and gravel, speaking a language (Pijin) with which he is equally unfamiliar. Baffled, he stumbles into a dance-off with some krumpers. After his humiliating defeat, a young woman (Alice, played by co-director Regina Lepping) follows Wane to a nearby gazebo, where she apologizes for the way her friends razzed him.

Alice quickly understands the improbable situation in which Wane has found himself and offers to take him to a museum gift shop full of Kastom objects. Wane spots the Subi that his uncle gave him, and takes it. Of course, the shop owner accuses him of stealing, but Alice tells her that it’s his. And suddenly, we’re back in time, where Wane’s uncle wakes him up. Confused, Wane asks “Where am I?” this time in his native tongue. As his uncle beckons him to keep following, Wane leaves behind the watch and grabs the Subi.

Looking for Nelao

Directed by Oshoveli Shipoh, this film depicts the struggles of a young man, Edward, to piece his life back together after awakening from a coma. The sole survivor of a horrific car accident, Edward has been in a coma for nearly a year. Upon his release from the hospital, he wanders through the city streets holding a picture of a young woman—his girlfriend, Nelao.

There’s no spoken dialogue, only subtitles. To me, this highlights Edward’s derealization upon coming out of the coma after so long. His isolation is only compounded by the fact that nobody seems to recognize Nelao’s picture—until he comes to a village in the countryside. A woman washing clothes recognizes Nelao’s photo and tells Edward that she lives in a neighboring house. Edward knocks on the door, and when Nelao answers she is ecstatic at their long-awaited reunion; Edward is, too, until another man walks up behind Nelao, that is. Heartbroken, Edward leaves, but Nelao follows him, telling her new boyfriend “I can’t do this anymore.” Edward will have none of it: “I don’t want to hear what you have to say.” We see Nelao’s flashbacks to the happiness of their former relationship. The brilliant colors contrast sharply with the washed-out filter of the rest of the film.

We learn that Edward’s family didn’t approve of Nelao; when she went to visit him in the hospital, Edward’s sister prevented her from entering. “I thought I told you to stay away from my brother!” she exclaims. “He’s in there fighting for his life and your ghetto ass is always showing up here!” It seems that her disdain for Nelao was exacerbated by the fact that Edward was on his way to visit Nelao when the accident happened. Edward, of course, was unaware of this argument. When he finally understands, he accepts Nelao into his arms. I’ve never been a huge fan of happy endings, but this was a nice change of pace, I have to admit.

Icimonwa

This film is by far the most bizarre of the three. Directed by Bennie Chibwe, Icimonwa stars rookie actor Philip Mutika as the unnamed main character. We see him lying apparently lifeless on the sand in a canyon before suddenly waking up, as if from a coma. He stares around at his surroundings in utter bafflement.

The ensuing seven minutes track his attempts to piece together what happened and, more importantly, who he is. Clues are littered throughout the sands: a fro pick, a small mirror, a purse, the Zimbabwe flag, among others. We get the sense that he’s not alone. And, it turns out, he isn’t. One line of angry dialogue suddenly cuts through the unsettling soundtrack.

But who is the mysterious assailant? And is he indeed responsible for what happened to the main character? The brief film is hallucinatory, blurring reality and dream, and by the end, few questions are answered. I’m not even sure what Icimonwa means. Is it the main character’s name? It’s also the name of a song sung by the Precious Angels Church Choir, also of Zambia, but other than that my search turned up no clues. Any tips would be much appreciated.

Up Next…

The Parade (Serbia, 2011)

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