Thursday, November 23, 2017

ADIFF ’17: Kafou

The boss has three rules for the luckless losers he has hired to make a delivery. Never stop the car, never roll down the windows, and never, ever look in the trunk. However, this will not be a Haitian homage to Speed. The two knuckleheads barely travel ten blocks before they break all three rules. Of course, that leads to some huge problems, especially that last point, in Bruno Mourral’s Kafou (trailer here), which screens during this year’s African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York.

Doc needs money for his sick mother, so he quickly agreed when Zoe promised him work with the local kingpin, Captain Fritz Bama. Unfortunately, Doc did not realize how difficult the jerky Zoe would be to work with. At least Bama placed him nominally in charge, causing considerable resentment in Zoe. The night was already off to a bad start (don’t worry, surely no dogs were actually harmed in the making of Kafou, right?), before Zoe peeked in the trunk and recognized the kidnapping victim trussed up inside.

Kafou (a voodoo reference) is exactly the sort of darkly comical gangster-caper drama that always plays well at festivals. There is indeed all kinds of cynical laughs and one-blasted-thing-after-another suspense, but its betwixt-and-between running time makes it a tricky film to program. The fifty-minute mark basically represents a state of half-pregnancy, but it certainly never drags, so give ADIFF credit for taking the plunge.

Jasmuel Andri and Rolapthon Mercure are terrific as Doc and Zoe. They are totally convincing getting on each other’s nerves and worse, while still being quite amusing in a meathead kind of way. However, Manfred Marcelin still regularly upstages them as the flamboyantly villainous Bama.

Mourral in collaboration with cinematographers Lucas Gath and Clément Maillet definitely give the film an evocative noir-city-at-night vibe. In some ways, it harkens back to vintage Tarantino, but it also has an absurdist edge to it. Genre fans and Haitian expats should find it well-satisfying but length could be an issue for some patrons, since it plays as a discrete program on its own, so take that into consideration. Highly recommended, Kafou screens Saturday night (11/25) at Teachers College, Columbia, as part of the 2017 ADIFF.