THE STORY – An Afropean woman escapes after being arrested in the Dominican Republic. She is sheltered by a group of minors in a dangerous district of Santo Domingo. By becoming their protégée and maternal figure, she will see her destiny change inexorably.
THE CAST – Clarisse Albrecht, Scarlet Reyes, Arturo Perez, Euris Javiel, Donis Taveras & Jarold Santos
THE TEAM – Ivan Herrera (Director/Writer) & Clarisse Albrecht (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 77 Minutes
“Bantú Mama” is a film about circumstance. We all think we know ourselves, but unforeseen events can sometimes force us into situations in which we crumble or rise to the occasion. During times like these, we can determine who we really are and what is most important. In many ways, circumstance is the antidote to everyday routine.
Emma (Clarisse Albrecht) is an Afro-European woman who decides to break from her routine and vacation in the Dominican Republic. She gets arrested for trying to smuggle drugs through airport security, but the police car transporting her gets into a collision, and she’s able to escape. Emma ultimately finds refuge in Santo Domingo, where she befriends three Haitian siblings who live independently.
Emma is soon captivated by her new setting, and the film assumes her vantage point as she explores Santo Domingo’s nightlife. “Bantú Mama” is directed by Dominican native Ivan Herrera, and his passion for the country shines through in these sequences, many of which play like pseudo-travelogues. The local accents and the implementation of locals as background players are endlessly fascinating as they furthered the authenticity of Emma’s journey.
In only his second feature, Herrera displays a canny intuition for presentation. Depending on a given scene’s intent, he alternates between the hand-held camera and steadicam, and his instincts are generally spot-on. Herrera is also gifted when it comes to the utilization of different settings to further the story. Santo Domingo, as a whole, is an interesting locale. Still, the use of specific buildings and geographic locations helps to further the sense of wonderment that both the audience and Emma feel.
Where “Bantú Mama” falters is in the writing. The film is intriguingly vague regarding Emma’s smuggling early on, but it’s barely developed throughout the runtime. I don’t need an expository dump or a dossier on Emma’s life, but the film lingers on her past experiences so often that it would’ve been nice to shed some light on what these experiences actually were. The character comes off thinly sketched, and given that she’s the protagonist, it makes the film hard to connect with.
Clarisse Albrecht’s performance is strong, and she completely sells the transformation of Emma from fugitive to surrogate mother. However, one wishes Herrera and Albrecht (who co-wrote the script together) had fleshed out the character in a way that made her transformation more satisfying. As it stands, we don’t really know who she was before she met the Haitian siblings. “Bantú Mama” has stretches of beauty and a tremendous sense of place and time, but the emphasis on setting comes at the cost of a tight script and clearly defined characters. Herrera is a promising talent. Here’s hoping he can bring his screenwriting chops up to the level of his directing in the future.