THINGS OF THE AIMLESS WANDERER
SATURDAY 22ND OCTOBER 6:30PM
Q+A with Director, Kivu Ruhorahoza, Piotr Cieplak (expert on Rwandan film and photography) and
Andrea Grant (Centre of Governance & Human Rights).
Mzungu: the aimless wanderer. This Bantu term, now commonly used to refer to white people, originated from a word referring to the propensity of early European explorers and missionaries to get lost, both literally and metaphorically, in African lands. THINGS OF AIMLESS WANDERER weaves together a series of encounters between an African woman and a variety of male figures – from a 19th-century explorer to a contemporary Western journalist to a Rwandan working for a shadowy surveillance agency. As each encounter leads to a disappearance, Ruhorahoza offers a scathing, if at times cryptic, indictment of continuing objectification and misapprehensions between “locals” and “Westerners”. A metaphor for Rwanda itself, the African female body becomes a tableau on which histories of obsession and oppression old and new are enacted. With a hypnotic score and arresting visual style, this film exposes the dangerous grounds of authenticity, tradition, authoritarianism and colonial legacies in contemporary Africa.
38-39 St Andrew's Street
Cambridge CB2 3AR
Director: Kivu Ruhorahoza
Running time: 78 mins
review by jonathan mitchell
Films that manage to combine an aesthetic simplicity with a density of possible meaning and interpretation are rare beasts. But in Things of the Aimless Wanderer, Rwandan director and writer Kivu Ruhorahaza has meshed meditations on Africa’s colonial past and how these linger today, together with a modern tale of political intrigue and shifting gender roles that centres on a girl’s possible disappearance, all to wonderful effect.
The film begins in dense forest, in the distant past. A white man (Justin Mullikin) wanders with seemingly little purpose. He is pursued by a black man (Ramadhan Bizimana) who stands over him with an axe as he sleeps. They encounter a woman (Grace Nikuze) and the three engage in silent staring.
We then cut to the present day. The same characters are in a bar; the white man appears to be propositioning the woman whilst the other man looks on. A title reads: “A girl has disappeared. Working Hypothesis #1. Based on a true story.” Bizimana removes her (dead?) body from a car. The camera roves an urban non-place, homing in on telling details: disused cars, derelict buildings, urban decay. The atmosphere created is eerie and unsettling. He performs in a “dance party” for a mostly tourist or ex-pat audience, before we fade to white. 24 minutes into the film we have our first dialogue. He discusses surveilling the white man with an unseen other. Meanwhile he takes her to his apartment where she dances for him. He is startled to find a middle age woman living in his shower.
Fade to “Hypothesis #2”. The white man dumps something (a body?) out in a field. In a lengthy voiceover we see him wandering the bush, observing animals (the great white hunter disarmed?), pondering the events we have seen in the previous scene. His tone is both self-pitying and patronising. He wonders if she was the daughter of a dignatory who had fallen from grace or if she was “aware of her ethereal beauty?” The tone shifts to one of paranoia as we move to the city at night. There are people following him. We learn he is a freelance American journalist who may have displeased the local security police. He is writing a book on the current political situation. A tolling bell on the soundtrack accentuates the ominous tone.
She leaves her house and walks down an urban street. In another jolting jump cut she is walking a rural road towards a lake. She holds her belly. As night draws in, she fills her rucksack with rocks, tapes her legs together and jumps in. A voiceover (the white man?) discusses local attitudes to teenage pregnancy and how these may have softened of late. We see her in church, a shot of an empty crib, before she is preparing her rucksack. This time she is walking out in the forest, where the film began. We see that this is “Working Hypothesis #3”. She tapes her feet, her mouth and herself to the tree.
Fade to black. We see black people in a bar, wearing ape masks. In voiceover the white man discusses the recent rise of local elites and the nature of suicide as a taboo subject because of its perceived association with western immorality. As a camera illuminates the dark of his apartment, his last spoken words are “Disorientation…disorientation”.
Things of the Aimless Wanderer’s love of fractured narrative, temporal dilslocation and possible futures/pasts certainly seems to align it with the work of Michaelangelo Antonioni. Indeed, the character of the American journalist is surely a knowing reference to Jack Nicholson’s character in The Passenger. The languid cinematography and oblique narrative strategies are also reminiscent, to my mind, of the more recent works of ‘Slow Cinema’ from the likes of Apichatpong Weereasethakul, Lisandro Alonso and Pedro Costa. But the film’s subtle meditation on the all-pervading influences of colonial and post-colonial history, together with the changing (or not) nature of society makes this a uniquely African work. The tone is one of disquiet, of ambiguity and of – yes – disorientation. This atmosphere is enhanced beautifully by Daniel Biro’s soundtrack, which mostly consists of industrial hums and drones. If this unnamed country can be seen as Rwanda then the shackles of history – both recent and long gone – are never to be underestimated.