This film was previously reviewed on 21/09/17 as part of London Film Festival.

In Swahili, “makala” means “charcoal”. Emmanuel Gras’s observational documentary follows Kabwita Kasongo as he journeys 50 kilometres across seemingly endless Congolese dirt tracks to hawk his wares in the town of Kolwezi.

The young entrepreneur begins by felling a tree. Gras’s handheld camera edges so close to his tireless labour we might almost get caught up in his swing. There is sparse dialogue; instead, it is bodies that do the talking. Our journey across the Congo rests largely on Kabwita’s shoulders, which might trouble some audiences. While this film is beautifully lensed, there is a slight concern over its direction and perhaps ethnographic intent: not everyone in the film disregards the camera lens in the way that Kabwita does.

Charcoal producers often work alone; Kabwita’s labour of love is nicely accompanied by Gaspar Claus’ cello solo which, although incongruous within the Congolese geography, suits film’s appreciation of the beauty and variety of uses of organic material.

There are, however, some uncomfortably protracted shots of Kabwita implausibly and helplessly lifting his consignment of charcoal up steep hills. Somehow, he manages. Have we witnessed a miracle? Could we be in the presence of God?

This style of documentary is more spiritual and more transcendent than just straight realism. The religious overtones come forth in the prayer meeting Kabwita attends. The sermon is on the Book of Job, a book from the Old Testament which, among many things, addresses why a benevolent God lets the righteous suffer. Unfortunately, however, this is a message which also seems appropriate to the film’s production.

Without a doubt, Emmanuel Gras has produced something truly captivating. The film’s spiritual overtones are compelling – however, Makala risks alienating some audiences with its silencing and aestheticization of the subjects it depicts. It is still a blissful 96 minutes, nonetheless.



CAST: Kabwita Kasongo, Lydie Kasongo

DIRECTOR: Emmanuel Gras

SYNOPSIS: Trials, tribulations, dreams and aspirations of a young farmer earning a living making and selling charcoal in Congo.