“I just wanted to be happy in this life” – Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Written by Yara

Beasts+of+No+Nation

Image source: nataal.com

Netflix’s first feature film is, by far, one of my favorite movies ever. It took me a while to watch it, but when I finally did I could not stop talking about it.

This is the story of a rather cheerful and imaginative young boy called Agu (Abraham Attah), he lives in an unnamed town in an unnamed country (hence the “no nation” from the title) with his parents, brother, sister and grandfather. Agu is left alone and vulnerable when the local militia attacks his city and kills his family. Escaping to the nearby jungle, he is found by a rebel group led by the Commandant (Idris Elba) who will induce Agu’s metamorphosis from boy into soldier.

I use the word metamorphosis here because “change” just doesn’t really cover this process. Abraham Attah delivers a breathtaking performance transforming the innocent and childish Agu into a merciless fighter. The term “child soldier” doesn’t work in this context either; although Ago is young (12-13  years old) his eyes have seen so much, he has done so many things that the innocence associated to the early years of life is lost forever. This is one the most captivating aspects of Attah’s performance, his face suffers such an intense transformation from the beginning to the end of the movie, that the word “child” does not apply to his state of mind anymore. Agu and his mute friend, Strika (Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye), have dense, opaque, lifeless eyes. It’s extremely heartbreaking.

Attah’s character would be incomplete without the powerful presence of the Commandant. It is no mystery that Idris Elba is one of the most talented (and handsome) actors of his generation; in this movie, however, he really outdoes himself. The Commandant is brute and violent but, like many other leaders throughout history, he is also exceptionally charismatic and charming, attracting his followers with vigorous and fatherly speeches; it’s clear that his band will follow him to the end of the world.

Most of the film is in English (with a heavy and amazing Nigerian accent) but there is also a strong presence of Twi, a language widely spread in Africa both as first and second language. This only contributes to the whole “no nation” aspect, there is no way of knowing where the movie is set. The script and the director use this subterfuge to represent the several conflicts present in the various countries of Africa; I also believe that it’s a way to criticize the manner with which Westerners deal with African countries, it’s not rare to hear someone saying “other countries like Brazil, India, Russia and Africa”, as if the whole continent was a unified blob. I’m very pleased when a movie respects the boundaries between English and other languages; it infuriates me when, all of a sudden, everyone speaks English without a good reason to do it so.

In short, Beasts of No Nation is a movie about people, dreams, reality and the rough loss of innocence; with a very consistent, detailed plot that promises to hold your attention to the very end.

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