Director Emmanuel Gras won the Grand Prix at Cannes Critics Week for this sensitive portrait of an independent Congolese labourer struggling to support his family.
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"Movies are like a machine that generates empathy," Roger Ebert once said. His sentiment is exemplified by Makala, a simple story of one man's labour told with an artistry that leaves an indelible impression. Filmmaker Emmanuel Gras won the grand prize at Cannes Critics' Week for his sensitive portrayal and exquisite camerawork.
The film begins at dawn in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as 28-year-old Kabwita Kasongo heads out with axes slung over his shoulder. He arrives at a majestic tree and begins the arduous process of chopping it down, one axe blow at a time. This is merely the first of several daunting tasks we witness Kasongo undertake in the process of making wood charcoal and delivering it to the marketplace.
The film patiently observes Kasongo as he works mostly alone and interacts with his wife, Lydie, and other townspeople. His minimal resources include a rickety bike that he piles precariously high with charcoal bags and pushes through dirt roads on a marathon journey. He dreams of earning enough money to buy a better roof for his family. While that cost would be modest in an industrialized country, for Kasongo it requires an enormous exertion to attain.
Ebert also noted that cinema has the power to let us "understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears." As a filmmaker, Gras wields this power to great effect.