In my exploration of international cinema, I have come across many different festivals. One of which is the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), which specialises in showcasing avant garde, industry outsiders and first time films. One such film that I watched on Mubi this year, was ‘Air Conditioner’ (2020), directed by Fradique in his fiction debut.
Air Conditioner follows Matacedo, a security guard in the Angolan capital of Luanda, who has been instructed by his boss to repair and replace his air con unit. Unfortunately for Matacedo and his boss, air conditioners around the city are mysteriously falling off their buildings; making his task a difficult one. We follow Matacedo as he navigates the Luandan streets, and comes into contact with its many unusual inhabitants.
This film is special for many reasons. Matacedo, our often silent and reserved protagonist seems unmotivated and aimless, only being pushed into action by his friend and colleague Zezinha. Despite this, the lethargic narrative never feels slow, we are given time to absorb Matacedo’s world through osmosis, the atmosphere is thick and heavy and works its way through despite the lack of dialogue or tension.
We are given hints of Matacedo’s past as a soldier, fighting in the long and brutal Angolan civil war which raged from 1975 to 2002, after over 400 years of Portuguese colonization. This past of oppression and violence is felt throughout the film, although kept firmly in the background. The film has a certain melancholy to it, we can feel that the inhabitants of this world are still healing from deep wounds; and this pain and suffering has not ended with peace. Time and time again we are reminded what kind of city Luanda is. The theme of infrastructural degradation supplied by the falling air conditioners is an excellent backdrop for this exploration of peace-time Angola. Throughout the film, we hear radio broadcasts discussing these incidents, and the range of responses from the pundits says everything about the country’s problems.
Despite these social issues, the film is by no means a downer. It has lightness to it, complimenting the underlying sadness with a bright tone and constantly-moving cinematography, keeping us walking along with Matacedo and giving us a feeling of progress and action. We also see some of the more beautiful cultural aspects coming through in some strangely hypnotising scenes, where Matacedo silently converses with a group of psychics, alluding to some of the mystical aspects of the traditional culture.
The strength of Air Conditioner lies in its ability to create tone. As I previously mentioned, the film does not have a particularly engaging narrative, and so we are instead drawn in by the artistry and the atmosphere. The cinematography is handheld and intimate, moving along with Matacedo, up and down staircases, over rooftops, and through winding streets. There are also some beautiful moments of stillness, such as the opening conversation between Matacedo and Zezinha. The lighting is used minimally but effectively, drawing out the more surreal, dream-like moments to create an almost magical tone. By far the stand-out aspect for me was the soundtrack by Aline Frazão, a mystical Jazz fusion, incorporating traditional African instruments and vocals in Portuguese. I was surprised to learn the soundtrack only contained five songs, with two of them being used twice. The presence of the music in the film is so strong and really defined the tone for me. Once you have watched the film, go and listen to the music in isolation, you will not be disappointed.
Watching Air Conditioner felt like watching a dream. Its heavy atmosphere and meandering, aimless narrative really put me to sleep (in the best way possible). Matacedo felt like a man in his own dream, removed from the world around him, but still trying to find something. The characters occupy a dichotomy of realism and surrealism, with Matacedo firmly in the centre. Every moment was at once engaging and relaxing, lethargic and tense. A lack of motivation painted on a background of imminent doom creates a beautiful, if not at times unsettling, adventure through Luanda.
A short watch, coming in at just over an hour, this may confuse but is not confusing. A taste of cinema far removed from a Western comfort zone.
Air Conditioner is available on Mubi.