Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Deron Albright's THE DESTINY OF LESSER ANIMALS to screen at the 2011 ND/NF

One of the treats of the yearly series New Directors/New Films (co-presented by MoMA and the FSLC) is the chance to see films from around the world, including some from smaller countries, the film-making output of which you may never before have partaken. Ghana is one such country for yours truly, and THE DESTINY OF LESSER ANIMALS, which screens this weekend (Friday and Saturday) at MoMA and the FSLC, is just such a film: small, interesting, exotic and surprising -- in ways both good and not so.  (This was, in fact, the only film in the series I was able to get to this year.)

Directed by Deron Albright, pictured at right, and written by its star Yao B. Nunoo, the film begins with a fingerprint in the colors, I presume, of the Ghanian flag. This is appropriate for several reasons. The film is a kind of mystery involving a passport (both forged and stolen!) and a series of violent crimes in which our sort-of hero,  Inspector Boniface Koomsin (played by Mr. Nunoo, shown below) becomes more and more deeply involved.

Corruption, from the mild to the major, seems rampant throughout Ghana, and clearly Boniface is part of that corruption, though of the more benign type. A once-illegal immigrant in the U.S., he was deported and now can't go back without that fake passport. As he probes the mystery of who robbed him of it, he meets a wise old, fount-of-wisdom fisherman (below, left), who explains the meaning of the film's title; a non-corruptible police chief from another precinct and his wife; a hot young hooker and her not-so-hot boyfriend, and most especially a sad-eyed young girl who seems to either follow Boniface everywhere or turn up at very odd times.

The underlying theme here is home and homeland -- and what, if anything, we owe the latter. Will our semi-hero leave Ghana or stick around and help make it a better place? In terms of  film-making technique, director Albright initially seem to have a pretty good handle on things. His film is crisp and efficient storytelling, for awhile. But as the platitudes pile up and more violence and murder occur (why our exceptionally naive hero even remains alive provides the movie's biggest mystery), much of the sense and logic goes by the wayside and sentimentality takes over.

It's not a total loss: performances are appealing, the scenery of course is exotic and new (unless you know Ghana very well), and there are historical reference points -- Kwame Nkrumah is one such -- around which some of us can wrap our memories. By the finale, the film seems to have changed its stripes completely -- from mystery thriller to feel-good fantasy. The Destiny of Lesser Animals indeed!

The film will screen Friday, April 1, at 9:00 pm at MoMA and again Saturday, April 2, at 6:30 pm at the FSLC. Follow the proper link to obtain tickets at either venue. As of now no further theatrical exposure is guaranteed for this film, so if it sounds appealing, better make plans to see it now.

Note: For those who couldn't catch this film three years ago, 
I have just been told that The Destiny of Lesser Animals 
is now streaming worldwide here at

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