THE HERO (Zézé Gamboa, 2004)

The first-ever fully Angolan film, Zézé Gamboa’s O Herói exasperates a bit in one regard. It is bereft of details about Angola’s 27-year civil war that is its essential background. This comports with its theme, the postwar need for Angolans to pull together in order to move forward socially and politically. However, Gamboa doesn’t minimize the difficulty of the road ahead. The profusion of Angola’s active land mines, one of the war’s legacies, indicates the impossibility of confining the past to history.
     There are two protagonists, one a young man, the other a 12-year-old boy: Vitório and Manu.
     Vitório’s twenty years at war—he was conscripted at age 15—have left its permanent insignia: the loss of a leg. Two things compound this symbolism: it takes months for Vitório to be given a prosthesis, and then only because the waiting list is manipulated to yield to his complaints; this “new leg” is subsequently stolen. Regardless, Vitório finds himself unemployable despite a document from the State—it might as well have come from the Wizard of Oz—certifying that he is a “hero.” War, it appears, is the experience that keeps on taking, and Vitório ends up homeless. Gamboa and his writers, Carla Baptista, Pierre-Marie Goulet and Fernando Vendrell, find the symbolical means to suggest how hard it will be for Angola to find its footing in the aftermath of war.
     Manu’s youth doesn’t prevent his being another kind of veteran of the war, having been divided from his parents as a result of it. Living with an elderly grandmother, Manu finds his real home in the streets, where his criminal activity speaks to another aspect of the war’s legacy. Indeed, other characters exemplify this legacy, sometimes too schematically, with some “uplifting” notes failing to convince.

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