The angolan filmmaker was presenting his film Our Lady of th Chinese Shop in the official competition at the Fespaco 2023. He was invited to speak in english about his film for the press and the professionals the next day during a Q&A. Light summary.
Annick Kandolo We have the pleasure to welcome Ery Claver from Angola. Ery Claver was a camera man who started on TV productions and documentaries. Since 2013, he is part of the collective named «Geração Oitenta », « Generation 80 » in english. This collective is composed of young passionates about cinema whose main ambition is to share and develop culture and arts with and for the Angolans but also to share them with the rest of the world. He worked on many films as director of photography but also as assistant director and assistant scriptwriter. He is at the Fespaco with his feature film Our Lady Of The Chinese Shop. The synopsis states: « While a Chinese merchant brings a plastic figurine of the Virgin Mary to a neighbourhood in Luanda (the Angolan capital), a mother tries to mourn her daughter, an involved barber starts a new cult and a young man seeks revenge for his lost friend. A tender urban tale that will reveal a family and city aspect, full of resentment, greed and torment. ». It is an allegoric film. Why did you chose such a genre to describe the aAngolans state of mind or at least the Luandenses?
Ery Claver: Good afternoon everyone. For me it’s a great pleasure to be here. It’s a dream coming true that we had since we are teenagers, my twin brother and me. This is my first feature film but it is our second collective one. We have been at the last Fespaco edition with Air Conditioner that shares the same approach, not only visual, but also how we perceive this new cité that is Luanda. So, we, I mean our collective, are always thinking on what would be the best way to tell our stories in a different way from those we can see and which are told by foreigners. Our research made me understand the complexity of our social place. Frequently, this reality is confusing, dreamlike, almost surreal and tough to decrypt. Our film challenges this reality because, as film makers, we must confront the reality in the same way the reality confronts us. Sometimes it feels a little bit surreal, kind of magical film, but we could almost compare this approach that I love so much to a docu-fiction. This non-artificial magic. A pure magic, a pure raw.
Olivier Barlet : Air Conditioner was also surprising with those air conditioners that fall for no reason. There is a question of air, of breathing in the film whereas here it’s about water and fire. Air Conditioner had no voice-over whereas here the voice-over is omnipresent, but in chinese! Whose voice is it? Is it the voice of the director?
The Angolans found Air Conditioner complex, of course. One of the critics was that the film had no voice. The peoples have to identify themselves with who is talking in this film that, here, is supposed to be the director, as he has the idea. With this film, I started working on a narration by Domingas, the mother. But, at some point, I was feeling that I was not getting into the true feelings of this female character because I was putting mine. One day, while doing some research for the film, we went to China Town of Luanda. We found statues of Our Lady there but also writings on the wall, in chinese of course. It was work phrases, signs. I asked them what it means and they answered that it was old proverbs stating that they have thousand-year-old proverb culture. I asked for the meaning of those proverbs and honestly I found them very similar to the things I’ve been writing during the preparation of the film, and at some points they were very similar to our own Angola’s ancient proverbs. It gives me that idea that the Chinese make a deeper impression on us than I thought. Of course, there is an economical aspect but we don’t have created a connection with them, not at all. They are strutting like ghosts in the city and even with their stores, they stay outside. At some point I thought « What they think about us ? What if they are telling a story about us ? ». To preserve this ignorance that I have about their culture, I wanted to keep the complexity that they represent to us : their feelings, the way they observe the things. They are very formal in the way they work but their proverbs are so affective, beautiful, emotional! It was like playing a game or doing a puzzle. It’s very beautiful to have something and define it to assume that they are « like this » and we are « like that ». I prefer to be in that cloud that sometimes rain, sometimes no, to keep this magic in the same way as I said before. It equals to the feeling of Luanda, of living in a place like Luanda.
I had a beautiful talk with the other narrator (Melly, who’s chinese) about each other’s culture. It teached me about my film, about some kind of feelings. I didn’t want to be too emotional, to impose feelings to the spectator. I wanted to have that kind of outside approach, as the chinese market in the film, like I’m above the situation, pretending I had understand what I saw but sometimes I didn’t know something at all. I learn all the time from my film which I think is very tricky in this way, because every time I watch it I learn something new, I feel it in different ways.
Question of the audience: How do you write your scripts and still the same vision?
I give this feeling because I am not a professional film maker, I never studied cinema. Even in my short films I didn’t have a script at all. I wrote poems, I wrote some phrases and then I shot them. For example, I never watch a film while I write because I don’t want to be influenced by other visions. I can feel influenced or intimidated. Otherwise, I read a lot and there are a lot of writers that I love, some of them are latin-american, mexican writers. With this kind of magic touch, their approach is between real and surreal, but at some point they mess it well. You forget that you are reading something unnatural, it feels natural. Some things that I like to read are more visual than some films that I watched. It gives me freedom because we work with a very low budget, very low resource. Sometimes it isn’t good to define the things rudely, for example the set. I imagined a scene constructed between two characters sited down on a table, but if we didn’t find the table we can make it on the floor. What is important is the feeling, the mood of the scene, not the set. A good example is the Stadium scene: I wrote it thinking about a crowd but then Covid came up and we couldn’t even put five people in the stadium. I never felt afraid because I know that reality. This mix of magical push me to find other ways to represent the same feeling. I know it feels like a bit theoretical but I think it feels very real and very rational. Because we used to live like that our entire life in Angola. We have to deal with what we have, including the cinema. We don’t have cinemas but it’s not for that reason that we do not watch films. We recreate our cinemas. We create our own cinema because we are not expecting much from other peoples, we back ourselves.
Question of the audience: What attracted you into cinema ?
I was a good film buff. With my twin brother, when we were teenagers, we had this portuguese library with a lot of books about cinema. So we red on a lot of films this way. The only chance to see some of my favorite films like Batman, like those of Fritz Lang and others film makers was only by one or two stills of their films. At the time there was no Google, no YouTube. So you only had to dream about the film and think what would it be. When I watched them later, I had the feeling that I already watched them before, in the books. Thus, my brother and I both thought: « let’s do something similar, let’s write and use two or three photographs because we do not have the resources to shoot, not even in video ». Then, we started doing this kind of still photographs, like a bande-dessinée. We started this work like that. I remember one day a TV station opened in the city, and I met one of the directors who asked me and my brother:« do you know how to film ? » and we said « yes ». But I didn’t know nothing at all! And the next day we have the cameras in our hands and, fortunately, it was a casting, nothing important, not a big deal. The image became all blurred, some videos were soundless. Our boss became very mad but at the same time he felt happy with us because he saw that we loved it. It was so magic, even if we did mistakes. That is when I get this feeling of : « Oh ! The image is not good? No problem, it is about feelings. Just have fun, have pleasure.
Question of the audience: Domingas is both present and not really alive, probably due to the pain of losing her daughter. What did you want to transmit through this caracter ?
« Domingas appears in one of my previous short films. You know, we have this idea of a woman suffering, this kind of domestical pression between men and women. I wanted a character that have to take care of her husband who has power, and at some point the power changes hand because he become sick. She takes control over him. But he is still the main voice.
It reminds me an auntie. It is with this auntie that I started to understand the complexity about power. It was a good metaphor of the political power. She had this really opressive, violent, and even at the end of her husband’s life, she is stills taking care of him very carefully. One day I asked her: « why you still take care of him after all he did to you? » She said: « I want to see him die softly, that’s my pleasure. ». This is what I wanted to represent with Domingas. This kind of masochist woman that could have hunted him very quickly but wanted to experience the power too. For me that’s what she found to feel some power. »
Olivier Barlet : The film starts with the water seepage. This water will seep throughout all the film and, at the end it no longer flows: the water is replaced by the fire that apparently represents the Virgin Mary burning, so the belief. The husband who’s dying is a politician and we think: this tale is actually deeply political. Does this understanding correspond to what you wanted to convey?
For sure. I’m always arguing with my friends: « Ah!! This guy is mad, he makes nothing for us ! ». They are like us, but with power. So I wanted this domestic story to be a metaphor of our power. When people ask me « if you were a politician, what would you do? », I answer that I don’t know because I don’t have this power. Maybe I would do the same, maybe not, I don’t know. I wanted to represent the political power in this domestic context. Actually I think it works the same way.
Of course, for me, it is a very political film. But it is not to say that Chinese are guilty or not. There is in the film different people, both with an intention: one is to save his dog, one mother who overcomes depression but want this power, a husband who feels humiliated but use this somehow to cover the guilty for the death of her daughter, and you have a business man just doing his work maybe to save money for his family in China. So nobody is guilty. Everybody tries to live their lives. But what changes is the definition of power. How much power? Some have more than others.
Question of the audience: What is, in fact, the place of Religion? What should we understand about the way you represent it?
I think that it is the most dangerous part when we talk about power because you can speak about a leader but you cannot speak about a holy figure that is representing us for so long such as the catholic figure.
I started with a joke : a white statue sold by a Chinese to a Black. It is insane. You feel that this thing could become dangerous when you start making money with this because, in the film, the true believers are the ones who want power. This is why nothing happen to them in the film because I guess the Blessed Mary is helping them because they are true believers! The Religion states « You could say I am a true believer because I am looking forward for my dreams but your dreams can be mad for other peoples. ». The Religion has, for me, this kind of struggle. Of course, I have nothing against Religion but with this issue with catholic fever. I think we never feel represented with the highest fever for us. It is not part of our culture.
What does it means to explain to our kids: « this great leader, this white guy is the maximum of human being ». We never feel represented. I think it is very dangerous and, at the end of the film, I allowed myself a little joke: « Our Lady is finally black ». I don’t think we have to get rid of the Religion, but we can create a better version for us.
Transcription by Daniel Olivier
Translation into French [on the Africultures website]