Asalif lives with his mother in a mud hut next to a brand new condominium complex outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, their poor circumstances in sharp contrast to the middle-class life of their neighbors. Director Mo Scarpelli follows her subject closely, creating a moving observational documentary that delivers an intimate look at the complexity of modern life in the developing world. Entitled Anbessa, which means “lion” in Amharic, the movie is also a testament to the universality of human experience, as Asalif roams the nearby hills, like any boy his age might do, imagining himself the king of the beasts and master of his tiny domain. He may not have much, but what he has is of his own making.
Indeed, Asalif is a kind of innovative genius when it comes to scavenging usable items from the apartment buildings’ trash heaps, bringing them home to assemble makeshift lights and toys. His mother. who weaves baskets for a living, dotes on him as best she can, but with her meager income there is not a lot beyond her love to give.
Scarpelli mostly stays as unobtrusive as possible behind the camera, seemingly allowing her subject to drive the story, until the end, when she finally applies some effective mise-en-scène and editing to create an evocative montage of Asalif in the big city, hinting, perhaps, at a future soon to come. The land on which Asalif and his mom live, after all, is coveted by developers, so the poor, but peaceful, existence we witness cannot last. Given Asalif’s resourcefulness, the lion within him may soon emerge, whether in triumph or in violent rebellion, we cannot tell. For now, however, we have this gentle portrait, where hope and despair intermingle in a profoundly cinematic mix.
Christopher Llewellyn Reed, Hammer to Nail
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Film Title : Anbessa
Language : amhara
Director : Mo Scarpelli
Year : 2019
Length : 86
Age limit : K7
Format : DCP
Cinematographer : Mo Scarpelli
Editing : Nico Leunen, Thomas Pooters
Producer : Caitlin Mae Burke, Mo Scarpelli
Production Company : Rake Films
Mon 27.1. at 19.30, Orion
Sat 1.2. at 17.15, Maxim 2
Sun 2.2. at 11.00, Kinopalatsi 7