We Are One Film Festival: Day Nine
Online Screen Editor, Jim Norman, struggles to complete the puzzle of Air Conditioner in his coverage of day nine of the We Are One Film Festival
A film that refuses to yield a ‘true’ meaning is always intriguing to me. The experience of watching such a film is a mixture of confusion, frustration and enlightenment, as potential theories and readings come and go as the narrative progresses. On the penultimate day of the We Are One festival, such an experience was provided by Air Conditioner, the feature film debut from Angolan director Fradique. The film is strange and whimsical and it certainly kept me attempting to decipher its true meaning throughout is relatively short running time. Yet this exercise in the absurd marginally misses its mark and is unable to stick the landing. Whilst similar films have left me hungry for a rewatch in the past, Air Conditioner instead left me hot and bothered.
In the city of Luanda, air conditioning units are mysteriously falling off of buildings, instantly killing anyone unfortunate enough to be standing below them. In the midst of this crisis we find Matacedo (José Kiteculo) and Zezinha (Filomena Manuel), a caretaker and housemaid who are left with the task of fixing their boss’ AC unit. Their work takes them spinning into a psychedelic world of death, memoires and jazz as they wonder the heated Angolan streets.
Air Conditioner offers so much to unpack that it is impossible not to attempt to find a message behind the metaphor
I am aware that in attempting to describe this plot it seems as if I too have been struck over the head with a large blunt object. The film wears its incohesive craziness on its sleeve and this is, for the most part, a marvel to behold. Theories of the air conditioning units standing in for capitalism, the military, innocence, immediately filled my mind and it was enjoyable to see which of these fell flat and which of them grew in their plausibility. But just as I managed to fit a number of theories into place, I found that the film’s puzzle was not intended to be completed, and I was left with a collection of pieces still in my hand. I feel that the film relishes in its experimentalism, opening itself to a number of theories behind its meaning but offering the solution to none.
This comes through no fault of the filmmaking, which, as a debut feature, is really interesting. At the start of the film we see a number of definitions for both the words ‘air’ and ‘conditioning’, each undoubtedly feeding a different reading of the meaning. Ery Claver’s cinematography utilises the defining feature of air, and mirrors it in the constant flow of his cinematography. The smooth tracks which follow Matacedo around the city hold such grace that we are placed in the ultimate position of passivity, guided by the protagonist as if attached by a thread. The same can be said for Aline Frazão’s excellent jazz and Latin score, which throbs with the heat of the city and pings with the cooling effect of the indoor shade.
What we are left with is a film that is enjoyable, but one that becomes frustrating when attempting to find a cohesive meaning to its narrative. Perhaps I have been saturated by an overwhelming need to find meaning in all that I watch. But Air Conditioner offers so much to unpack that it is impossible not to attempt to find a message behind the metaphor.