A "living newspaper" from Madagascar, now at Facets | Bleader

Friday, June 14, 2013

A "living newspaper" from Madagascar, now at Facets

Posted By on 06.14.13 at 02:37 PM

Legends of Madagascar
  • Legends of Madagascar
On Sunday at 4 PM, Facets Multimedia will screen Legends of Madagascar as part of the African Diaspora Film Festival, with writer-director-actor-editor-composer Haminiaina Ratovoarivony scheduled to attend for a postshow discussion. On the basis of the film, I suspect that Ratovoarivony will have a lot to say. The movie takes on numerous issues in contemporary Madagascar: racial tensions between the native population and Indian immigrants, military corruption, and the challenge to preserve indigenous traditions amidst economic growth. As Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote of Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, Madagascar is "a kind of 'living newspaper' where front-page stories exist in proximity to one another without necessarily linking up, and where it's left to the audience to make some of the vital connections." And like much of Lee's work, it's lively and impassioned stuff—too entertaining to come off as a screed.

A young man studying in the capital must return home to his village when he learns (via radio announcement) that his father is deathly ill. There's some nice workaday humor to the early scenes, as the hero and his Rastafarian friend Bob scrounge up the money to buy a bus ticket home. (There are parallels here with the recent U.S. indie Gimme the Loot, which also constructed a modest comic story around panhandling; as independent filmmaking becomes an ever cheaper activity, I suspect this theme will reappear in many more low-budget movies.) They fail to raise enough, but fortunately their gangster friend Dylan (yeah, I know . . .) needs to skip town and offers them a ride.

From here Legends of Madagascar becomes a road movie, as the characters drive away from the developed world and into the jungle. Signs of political strife are everywhere, as are military checkpoints. Yet they encounter a spirit of camaraderie everywhere they go—nearly everyone they meet (including a sniper employed at one of the checkpoints) loves to smoke weed. That's a familiar motif from American youth comedies, but it assumes a more serious purpose here. Most of the characters in Madagascar are just one hit away from launching into an epic political bull session—a sign, Ratovoarivony suggests, that the times are a-changin'.

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