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Manga d’Terra

Young Cape Verdean mother migrates to Lisbon in search of financial opportunities, but singing morna becomes her only reliable companion - from the 76th Locarno Film Festival


Twenty-year-old Rosinha (Eliana Rosa) left her two young children behind under the care of her mother in order to move to the Portuguese capital. She works as kitchen assistant for the motherly yet formidable Nunha (Nunha Gomes) in a precarious restaurant in the suburban slums, where they sell Cabo Verde’s national dish cachupa (a stew of corn, beans, cassava, sweet potato and meat). The life of an African immigrant in Europe isn’t particularly rosy. She often has to fend off police violence, living in a ghetto-like community virtually segregated from the rest of Portuguese society. There is little entertainment for our young protagonist, except perhaps for a platonic relationship with singer Ze Bula. She seeks solace by often talking to her family via videocall, with the longing for her land and her loved ones permeating every aspect of her life.

Nnnha is very fond, but also overprotective of her perceived protegee. She is terrified that the attractive young woman could slip intro prostitution. One day, her exaggerated care backfires, leaving Rosinha homeless. She seeks refuge with Lu (Lucinda Brito), a newly-found, very kind acquaintance, but that too proves challenging. Jealous female characters become one of the biggest challenges that Rosinha has to overcome, in a culture where hot-blooded women are encouraged to be sensual, overtly sexual and “fight” for their loves ones. Arguments and conversations between women often explode into a loud and indistinct razzmatazz. Ardent female sexuality is subject to the unruly and untethered male gaze. Rosinha’s voluptuous body hence becomes a handicap instead of an asset. As a consequence, She becomes increasingly introspective. Her broad, contagious smile is replaced by a protracted long face.

It is in music that Rosinha finds a powerful venting outlet. She often bursts into semi-diegetic singing. In other words, she starts chating her life story, without any explanation as to why her lines are being sung (think little snippets of Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, from 1964, and you are halfway there). She deliver her songs in magnificent morna fashion, often without any supporting instruments. Morna is a music genre most closely associated with Cabo Verde, which received worldwide recognition thanks to Cesaria Evora. Incidentally, Rosa is a locally acclaimed morna singer, and she indeed is set to play the Barefoot Diva in an upcoming television series.

Manga d’Terra works tremendously well as an ode to Capo Verdean culture and the Cape Verdean diaspora. The director explained:I wanted to pay tribute to the women of the Reboleira district through a musical that revisits the cosmic sounds of Cape Verde.” On the other hand, it is only partially effective as a drama. Rosinha has to juggle various microconflicts: racism, violence, poverty, the hypersexualisation of her body, and even homelessness. But these elements are not woven together into one robust thread, and the narrative arc is not raised high enough. This is a film that will make you smile, even gently shake your hips, however it will neither enrapture nor hit you. The director attempts to elicit strong reactions from the audience by alternating between red and blue lights, as if creating an arena for conflicting emotions, but that too isn’t entirely fruitful.

Manga d’Terra just premiered in the Official Selection of the 76th Locarno Film Festival. Worth a viewing.

By Victor Fraga - 04-08-2023

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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