The Great Kilapy

A unique collaboration between three continents and three Portuguese speaking countries opened Utopia, the 4th UK Portuguese Film Festival last night.

Angolan director Zezé Gamboa tells the story of bon viveur João Fraga (Lázaro Ramos) in Luanda in Lisbon during the swinging 1960s, a time of intense cultural and political activity in both the Angolan and the Portuguese capital. Angola was under intense fight against its colonisers (they would eventually achieve independence in 1975). Meanwhile, João exercised his social skills and masculinity with various females on both sides of the Equator.

The making of The Great Kilapy is a large achievement in itself: a unique co-production between three continents and three Portuguese speaking countries (Angola, Brazil and Portugal) is virtually unheard of. The film cost €2 million and captured funds in all three countries. This is a very low sum if compared to European films, but it is an expensive production for Brazilian and particularly African standards (where movies are often made with much less than  €1 million). It has already found a distributor in Angola, Brazil and Portugal, and it is currently negotiating a deal in France.

The film has a strong Brazilian taste, with veterans Lázaro Ramos, Antônio Pitanga and Hermila Guedes. Most of the filming took place in the Brazilian city of João Pessoa (Gamboa thinks that Luanda was defaced beyond recognition during the civil war that followed independence and therefore was not suitable for shooting). Pitanga and Ramos play father and son – both heartthrobs were born in Salvador and represent the finest in Brazilian dramaturgy. The bringing together of the two Brazilian stars is a very unexpected achievement for a film set in Angola and with a the plot has no connection to Brazil. Oh, the joys of co-production!

Angola was living a very singular moment in history in the 1960s: a very late fight for independence, a resurgence of communists and an ailing dictator (Salazar, in Portugal). Sadly Gamboa fails to explore this complex conjecture in detail. At times it seems that the political developments are a mere backdrop to João social and sexual endeavours, and that the film is entirely centred around the character’s sexual prowess and Ramos’s abs. I have a limited understanding of Angola’s history, and I feel that little changed after watching the film.

The Great Kilapy is a very conventional film, and by no means daring and innovative. It does not have a lyrical appeal either, like in the films of Portuguese filmmakers Manoel de Oliveira and Miguel Gomes. While the acting and the cinematography are convincing, the script is somewhat monotonous and prolonged. I would still recommend it for the insight into a relatively unknown African country and the sterling performances.

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