‘Neptune Frost’ review: Afrofuturist musical is a mess
NYFF: Shot in Burundi with an inventive DIY aesthetic, Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman’s anti-capitalist manifesto is a sensory delight.
If the artist’s noblest aim is to become a vessel of divine connection to a creative source, then Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman are truly touched. The large amount of hypnotic imagery and music on display in “Neptune Frost”, the cinematic chapter of the multi-faceted project “MartyrLoserKing”, which includes three albums and a graphic novel, is bursting with life and ingenuity to fill a solo exhibition. .
In this fantastical Afrofuturist universe, characters with names like Memory and Psychology wander among whimsical sculptural sets, draped in costumes and artwork make-up so eye-catching that the looks on “Euphoria” seem conventional. The music is alive and vibrant, drawn from a double spirit of joy and protest. While these elements are never perfectly cohesive to form a noticeable narrative in “Neptune Frost,” it’s fun to indulge in the fluidity of its ingenuity.
Set in the hills of Burundi, the dreamlike tale loosely follows a group of soft hackers building a community underground following a resource war. A singer wanderer, who slides between the man and the woman with the click of their heels, is guided by magnetic traction towards the enclave of the outcasts. The film bounces between the wanderer, Neptune, and the hackers, who seem indelibly linked through shared visions. “My mother and father were binary stars,” they sing, describing the sun as a fire in the sky, in an issue about the origin of the world which seems – at least lyrically – to descend from “The origin of the ‘love’ of Hedwig.
The favorite greeting in this colorful alternate universe is “Unanimous Goldmine”, a repeated chorus that never reveals its full meaning. Sometimes someone asks “How are you?” To which the other person replies: “Shining. While opaque in meaning, these are clearly meant to refer to the Coltan mining community where the film begins. Coltan is a mineral used in many electronic devices, including the iPhone. Eighty percent of the world’s coltan supply is found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Courtesy of Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman
Crossing an invisible force field, Neptune (AKA The Motherboard) finally reaches the hacker community, unleashing the power they desperately sought. Once reconnected with their beloved mainframe, people’s dependence on technology is skewered into a triumphal song resembling a funeral song: “Five billion subscribers” and “I own the Internet,” shout- they.
Although mostly in translation, with the exception of a few lines, the lyrics to “Neptune Frost” range from inspired poetry to brutal rant. There is this heartbreaking exhibition offer: “The war forced us into other dimensions, where the worst has already happened. Or the tragic existentialism of: “To imagine hell is a privilege. These bursts of eloquence transport the viewer into the experience of another, bringing us out of our Western apathy with an elegant chorus. At other times, the lyrics can be quite awkward. “Fuck Mr. Google” is certainly a valid sentiment, but it lacks the nuance of “Technology is just a reflection of us”.
The playful costumes, by Rwandan artist Cedric Mizero, belong to a museum. A textured keyboard cloak, made entirely of black keys from a desktop keyboard, is a brilliant reuse of technological rubbish. A flock of singing planters are enveloped in white, their soft conical headdresses transforming them into protective alien goddesses. In a jarring act of rebellion, the police wear hot pink shirts and wire mesh masks. Without their propeller pistols, they would look like stylish club kids.
The set should have been kept as an installation room, with teepee-like structures speckled with upturned baskets and a panel of analog TVs that could have been a Nam June Paik house.
“Neptune Frost” caught the attention of a wide range of creatives. The film counts Ezra Miller, Lin-Manuel Miranda and artist Kara Walker among its producers. Conveying a massive download of ideas in just one movie, there is no doubt that Williams and Uzeyman have some creativity to spare, and they deserve all the support they can get to share it with the world. When you are so close to the divine, the medium is a pretty pretty message.
“Neptune Frost” is currently showing at the New York Film Festival.