Review by Paul Burch
January 17th, 2018
Radio Host: “Life in New York is difficult…”
In the way a lot of American crime thrillers depict their corrupt characters like a pastiche of archetypes rather than three-dimensional people going through hourly struggles. KAFOU, however, operates like a westernized crime thriller. There isn’t much by way of restraint in the way it depicts its characters but writer-director Bruno Mourral chooses to embrace every close-up to a spinning tire and feature the absurdity of the clichés whenever he gets the chance (in one moment, while requesting a phone number from a hostage, one of the leads explains the automated system to the other). I think the best way to approach KAFOU is on terms of playing tongue-in-cheek. Due to this, it not only makes different cultures blend into cohesive absurdity but it also shades the film with a political bent. How the radio broadcast in the background of the opening scene doesn’t entirely sit on being the most subtle, it still sets up the rest of the film and its more subtle approaches. There are phone calls that exposit how Haitian Voodoo comes into play but beyond that, the rest of processing “kafou” within confines of the small story and its remote location ask the viewer to reflect and process what it all entails in its eventual - i.e. very brutal and ironic - payoff.
Mourral places us immediately into the action, operating like a short film that had the audacity to overcome its welcome. Rather than simply letting the symbols of the sequence fade in the background, the anger in this particular voice comes through with how patient it is for the viewer. In fact, reaching the end of the cold opening, there’s a sign of contempt and empathy in equal doses that’s rarely felt in the genre (the central lead is literally breaking the fourth wall and staring at the audience). KAFOU takes place in Haiti, in the capitol of Port-au-Prince. It starts within a dry cleaning facility, where “the boss” (in government uniform) eats crudely at his desk next to a glass cube, pictures of Mother Theresa and a dust-covered fan; he sun-alludes halos behind the heads of politicians within the pictures almost to solidify them as omniscient gods rather than flesh and blood. Our heroes stand in silence waiting; one of them sporting colorful sunglasses and an up-down shirt. They’re to deliver a “package”, in the typical MacGuffin way we’re accustomed to in American films of this nature. This setup brings up the legend of the title and thus the rest of the film (which mainly takes place in an alley within the Port-au-Prince slums) becomes less about how serious we take these conventions and interested more in how they’re subverted for the benefit of both Mourral’s rage and defiance. The “boss” is akin more to a figurehead in John Milton’s Paradise Lost than anything we’d associate with a Michael Bay villain.
KAFOU has less to do with your standard action flick and more to due with film critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s coining of the term “vulgar auteurism”. Taking the auteur theory itself a step further, him and many other accomplished critics felt that some genre filmmakers were often maligned even when they provided some kind of sociopolitical substance. It’s called vulgar because of the subversion rather than the pandering to the ideals of what the conventions of the action film usually entail. These filmmakers are hellbent on destroying these conventions in the same way Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette wanted to desecrate the concepts of “good cinema” when it came to Hollywood and its over-sentimental and artificial “rules”. Bruno Mourral has it coded in the first few minutes, while the rest flirts on the border of supernatural horror and heated satire. The finale is entirely vulgar (bordering on “torture porn”) but to what extent after all of what’s come before it do we embrace it as funny? Paralleled with the opening sequence, they become thematically glued together in a way that acts as bookends. “You were going to shoot him?” the boss says after some familiar psychological mind games (a showcase of power). At the end a person is killed but it’s done through chaos and anarchy, leaving “pure” cinema off the table (and its equally about power).
Summarizing the density of KAFOU's screenplay entails rambling. The concept of power comes into play in a moment revolving around police stopping by. It’s played theatrically, almost like Greek tragedy or maybe even a fairy tale. Adding the pretense of magick into this only increases the odds that there’s something more going on; something out of reach. In one shot, the camera pans above the streets of Port-au-Prince like its from the perspective of God as lights flicker on and screams increase from the woken citizens. This establishes a film more about the whole rather than a few. By turning the highly westernized notions of violence and belief principles of action cinema to a place of reality, Mourall has dissected a lot of the perspective’s artifice. He draws you in with the conventions but then spits you right the back out. KAFOU operates like a introspective voodoo spell itself; baiting the viewer in, holding them in suspense, and then using a boulder to smash the head.
Learn much more about KAFOU at the following links: