Berlinale 2013 – A batalha de Tabatô (The Battle of Tabatô)

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A batalha de Tabatô (Forum)
Guinea-Bissau / Portugal 2013, 78 min
Language: Mandinka
Production Company: Papaveronoir

Director: João Viana
Cast: Imutar Djebaté, Fatu Djebaté, Mamadu Baio

BEST FIRST FEATURE AWARD (SPECIAL MENTION)

“While you were waging war…”
A voiceover emerges from a background of rainforest sounds, recounting millennia of cultural advances in West Africa under the Mandinka Empire.

Interviewing the frontman of the hottest band in modern-day Guinea-Bissau, a DJ flaunts his knowledge of Mandinka culture, gleaned from a college class taught by the musician’s fiancé. At the same time, the band leader’s fiancé rushes to the airport to meet her father, who has returned from exile to attend the wedding. There’s a fender-bender in the parking lot and, hearing the crash, her father falls to the ground as if shot.

A batalha de Tabatô rises from these sparse opening scenes to attain grand, mythic scope, ultimately pitting the rhythmic harmonies of the Mandika’s ancient wooden balafon against the metallic cacophony of warfare.

Employing vivid imagery (despite losing their lighting equipment in a ferryboat accident) and minutely observed sound design (tiny crabs scraping across sand), João Viana and his team gradually transpose the fabulous (though real) musical village of Tabatô over ruins of Guinea-Bissau’s recent colonial past.

Fatu Djebaté and Imutar Djebaté make a beautiful and believable daughter-father pair, guiding the viewer into a fully realized world of tragic myth. Imutar Djebaté extends the silences between Fatu’s questions and her father’s answers nearly to infinity, as if he were inventing language with each word.

A batalha de Tabatô won Best First Feature special mention at this year’s Berlinale.