Poetry, metaphor and realism coalesce in The Burial of Kojo - a film that blurs the boundaries between dream and awakened state, past and present, life and death and between mental illness and perfectly normal reactions to the unbearable and the unforgivable.
Such depictions are often referred to as "magical realism" and Sam Blitz Bazawule’s feature debut is no exception, though he would probably agree with Indian writer Arundhati Roy, who points out that the realities she portrays are not magical, just because they are not shared by Western readers.
Blitz, just like Roy, has access to stories, mythologies and presuppositions about the world that are not based on scientifically proven fact. A very natural reality, and not at all super natural.
Sam Bazawule, who was born and raised in Ghana, but resides in the US, first became known as hip-hop artist and visual artist, Blitz The Ambassador. After its premiere at the Urban World Film Festival in New York in the fall of 2018, The Burial of Kojo was picked up by Ava DuVernay's distribution company, Array and was released on Netflix US.
The Burial of Kojo unfolds in Ghana and is a fantastical masterfully filmed family saga, narrated by Esi (Cynthia Dankwa), daughter of Kojo (Joseph Otsiman). Kojo is a sensitive soul and a warm present father, who has a complicated relationship with both his wife and his brother. Esi's mother, Ama (Mamley Djangmah) loves her daughter, but exhaustion and disappointment limit her ability to be a fully present mother.
The family's history of grief and betrayal is not unique anywhere in the world, and their precarious situation and dreams of a better life is not either. As Blitz never confuses premise for plot, his film never loses touch with the deeply human and universal aspects of Esi’s family’s existence.
Blitz weaves together the family members' experiences of adversity, grief, joy and love, with economic and ecological exploitation as well as myths and fairy tales explaining the state of the world. He skillfully avoids clichés about African melancholy and traditional African storytelling in a fable that features enchanted birds, archetypal brother vs. brother drama and a highly addictive Mexican telenovela (also directed by Blitz for the purpose of the film).
The Burial of Kojo has been celebrated for its stunning cinematography (by Michael Fernandez). In a video produced by Array, Blitz talks about his loyalty to the characters’ point of view and their gaze on the universe they occupy and its inhabitants. He goes on to say that he always wondered how those who lived before him would have portrayed the world if they had access to a film camera. If his grandmother had made a movie, he suggests, it would have been magical and non-linear, just like his movie.
The burial of Kojo is a unique film by a multi-faceted, courageous and
relentless artist, who also made the music for his film. Blitz Bazawule is - rightfully - the kind of African filmmaker and artist that the world loves to discover and fall in love with.
By Katarina Hedrén
(This is a slightly edited and translated version of a review originally published by FLM)