Mauritian Nocturne

in 12th Luxor African Film Festival

by Massimo Lechi

There are films that, more than others, succeed in depicting in creative and thought-provoking ways the cultural environment that has generated them and that, most of all, has shaped the personality and the craft of those behind them.

A product of the unique, and still relatively unknown, mix of different ethnicities, languages and religions which is the Mauritian society, Gazing at the Stars (Simin Zetwal) by David Constantin shone bright among the titles in competition at the 12th Luxor African Film Festival for the originality of its scenery, the inventiveness of its mise-en-scène and the striking quality of its visuals. Not just a gorgeous piece of exotica, but a deeply human, bravely ambitious and fully accomplished picture, a serious and heartfelt attempt to shed a revealing light on the many contradictions of a whole society.

The story is simple and it revolves around three characters: Bolom (Jérome Boulle), a poor creole who drinks to ease the pain for the loss of his Indian wife; his frustrated son Ronaldo (Edeen Bhugeloo), a mixed-race small-time swindler who dreams of fleeing Mauritius and living the high life abroad; and Ajeya (Sharonne Gah-Roussety), an immigrant worker who has left her native India to support her child. Outcasts in an almost surreal world in which everyone’s actions seem driven only by greed and resentment, the three cross paths in the most unexpected way. One day in fact Bolom disappears, leaving Ronaldo, who needs his signature to sell a plot of land, completely desperate. The young man starts therefore to frantically look for the troubled old drunkard, only to find hidden in his car Ajeya, who has stolen from her dishonest boss the passports of her co-workers and is now on the run.

It’s the beginning of a nocturnal road-movie, throughout which Costantin displays all his talents of storyteller and of creator of sophisticated images. Helped by the promising cinematographer Azim Moollan and by the experienced Tunisian editor Nadia Ben Rachid, the Mauritian filmmaker, who directed his first feature, Lonbraz Kann, in 2014, almost a decade ago, plays nonchalantly with the rules of different genres and is clearly not afraid to push his story beyond the borders of conventional cinematic realism.

Set in a dark, mysterious forest outside the working-class town where the three main characters lead their unsatisfactory lives, the search for Bolom soon evolves into a wider search for freedom – from the past (Bolom symbolically liberates the soul of his beloved wife by unburying and burning her bones), from the present (Ajeya can finally break her chains and go back to her family), from the future (Ronaldo, the money in his pocket, can look at his dream of escaping the island as a more concrete possibility – or maybe not). On the background, a landscape of light and darkness, where the opposites endlessly clash.

In Luxor, Gazing at the Stars won the Fipresci Prize for Best Film in the Long Film Competition “for its beautifully crafted and surprisingly original cinematic depiction of the complex cultural mosaic of the Mauritian society.”

Massimo Lechi
Edited by Savina Petkova