NEPTUNE FROST
(****)-VITO CARLI

"...a veritable feast for both the eyes and ears"

A Cool, Out of This World Cyberpunk Musical

(072822) Neptune Frost is an oddly invigorating and highly transgressive afro futurist musical which was shot in Rwanda and Burandi. It takes place in the past, present and future as well as in reality and in dreams. It is also a techno allegory that is anti-colonial and anti-capitalistic.

Although I had one of the best experiences at a screening watching it so far this year, this is a very difficult film to interpret and critique in words because much of what makes up the film’s appeal is conveyed in abstract hard to pin down visuals which have unlimited possibilities of symbolic content. At times it is more like a feature length surrealist music video than a traditional narrative movie.

“Frost” is the magical beautifully colored messenger bird while “Neptune” is the name of one of the main characters. While this is not exactly like anything else I have seen there are a few familiar elements like the techno messiah idea that come from The Matrix, the all black cyber hactivist village bears some resemblance to one of the villages in the Black Panther  film.

This highly original film is a great showcase for the talents of rapper, Saul Williams and his wife, the director, Anisa Uzeyman who seem to have nearly unlimited imaginations and potential. Uzeyman, who is from Rwanda, and Williams who is American worked as co-directors and they wanted to mesh their culture and languages and create a universalist vibe like they did in their marriage. The film is in English, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Swahili, and French with English sub-titles. It was originally planned as a three-part multimedia project and it was originally supposed to include an album, graphic novel (both titled Martyrloserking) and a play, but the play eventually turned into this movie. (Another ambitious graphic novel/CD crossover project, Emanon which was put out by former Miles Davis sideman and Weather Report leader, Wayne Shorter is also highly recommended.)

The Neptune Frost film is a veritable feast for both the eyes and ears. Much of the soundtrack and many of the film’s ideas were derived from Williams’ 2016 recording, Martyrloserking, while the eye-catching costumes were designed by popular artist, Cedric Mizero, who like Nick Cave (whose works are currently displayed at a great show at the MCA) often uses found objects in his costumes, such as bicycle wheels and loose wiring. Mizero believes that the devices we use are rooted in the earth and humans should be considered the technology, and he said “Technology’s integration into society makes it as much a part of us as external from us. The challenge is ensuring that it is used to empower those who were overlooked. This nicely sums up the message of the whole film.

Despite many reviews calling this is a punk or hip-hop musical most of the music sounds like it belongs in neither genre. The music like the film is both tribal or traditional yet modern and technological. Revisionist or aniti-musicals like this and Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc or Dancing in the Dark all try to do something shockingly new with the genre and are much more satisfying and memorable than more traditional recent musical films like La La Land,
Chicago and the Spielberg version of West Side Story.

Neptune Frost takes place (like lots of cyberpunk) after a terrible war. A totalitarian government takes over, free speech in universities is smashed and we see to images of a policeman crunching the neck of a civilian with his feet, which echoes  the real-life brutality of George Floyd. People in this dystopia, the darkest most tyrannical possible variation of a capitalist society, greet each other with “unanimous gold mine” which conveys their naiveté. zombie like optimism and complete embrace of corporate rule. Audiences might ask will this eventually happen or is this us now?

When the film starts we see a weird, otherworldly pan of the orange and gray rocks in a magnificent mine. Two of the main characters, Matalusa (Kaya Free) and Techno (Bertrand Nineretse) are brothers who work in an open pit mine in Burandi. Matalusa finds and examines a piece of coltan, a metal used in the all-important I Phones and other electronics. Because he temporarily was distracted from work, his sadistic foreman brutally bludgeons Techno in the head with a gun until he dies which naturally horrifies his brother, Matalusa. In one of the most dynamic scenes Matalusa does a morning dance surrounded by tribal drummers, with shovels beating the ground for additional sound. Many of the drummers are real refugees from Burundi that were displaced by the war. After fleeing the mine, a waking dream takes him to another reality that is free from boundaries of gender and class-suggesting that liberation from one is linked to liberation in the other.

Eventually he crosses paths with the other main character in the story. Neptune (played by both the female Cheryl Isheja and male Elvis Ngao) an intersex (defined as someone who does not fit traditional notions of a male or female) runaway finds a man she trusts, but right away he tries to violate her. She ends up running away and she meets up with Matalusa at a hacktivist enclave, shelters made up of discarded computer mother boards repurposed as housing. Both the cyber hacktivist, Neptune and the mine worker, Matalusa are disgusted by the world as it is and combine their skills and energies to start a revolution against the oppressive forces of capitalism, uniting the proletariat workers and techie class. They do this using the force of their unbridled creativity and individuality. The artist, Banksy would like this idea. They accomplish this by restoring and becoming active on the Internet which had long been banned by the government. Near the film’s climax after the cyber rebels have reconnected to the main frame which links to the past, present and future and they yell out: “Five billion followers. I own the Internet!”  This whole idea behind the film reminded me a bit of the Outkast performance on the Grammy's in which the band, accompanied by African American dancers in Native American outfits, arrives and uses their art to liberate people from the restrictions of a totalitarian government.

This film is highly recommended for those brave souls and kindred spirits that are sick of sequels and franchise films with fast cuts and big explosions that want to digest something truly challenging, thought provoking and innovative. It is also the greatest African cyber punk musical I have ever seen or that I am ever likely to see. To update and paraphrase a line from famous rock critic Jon Landau in his seminal Bruce Springsteen review: "I have seen the future of sci fi film, and the future is Neptune Frost."
 

Directed by:    Anisia Useyman & Saul Williams
 Written  by:    Saul Williams
Starring:    Cheryl Isheja, Elvis Ngabo, Bertrand “Kaya Free” Ninteretse
Released:    06/03/2022 (USA)
Length:    105 minutes
Rating:    Unrated
Available On:    Currently Playing at Emagine Cinema Chatham and it will
 open at Facets Multimedia on July 16. Also available as a
 download at Amazon Prime and Torrent.

See Great Italian Horror films at the Giallo Film Festival with Giallo themed art show at FACETS:

1517 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60614!

GIALLO GELATO starts at 2pm on Sat, July 30th! Tickets and details are here:

https://facets.org/programs/giallo-gelato/?fbclid=IwAR148v7OqmSYLdnCz8hX5cXpZFdHFAsWrgQ_2r3-4eTicB-THiCQv4SPlcw

 Join Stephanie Sack from the Secret Cinema School for the sweetest horror ice cream film event.

Giallo Gelato screening schedule:
THE PSYCHIC (1977) – 3:00 PM
INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION (1971) – 5:30 PM
YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (1972) – 8:00 PM
 

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

NEPTUNE FROST  © 2022 5000 Broadway Productions
Review © 2022 Alternate Reality, Inc.

LAST WEEK JR REVIEWED:
"
the Automat"

     

NEXT WEEK JR REVIEWS:
"the Gray Man"