Criterion Prediction #230: Muna Moto, by Alexander Miller
Title: Muna Moto (The Child of Another)
Director: Jean Pierre Dikongue-Pipa
Cast: Phillippe Abia, Arlette Din Beli, Gisèle Dikongue-Pipa, David Endene
Synopsis: Ngando and Ndome are young and in love.However, they endure the pressures of local customs and financial strain as Ngando can’t afford the dowry for Ndome’s hand in marriage. He’s also racing against the clock because she’s a candidate for marriage to his uncle, a man who already lives with three brides.
Critique: Muna Moto plays on the accessibility of its genre, star crossed lovers, romance and familial disputes, familiar territory for any facet of fiction. But, on film it’s fluidity is remarkable, not because of the themes but the traditions, customs, and culture of its setting infuse the narrative with an enlivened sense of interest. While the neo-realist feel of Muna Moto defines the film’s overall aura and stylistic direction, there’s an organic sense of ethnographic curiosity that lets us into the Cameroonian village setting without putting on airs or guiding us around with expository influence. There’s a looseness throughout, and Dikongue-Pipa’s working on a rhythmic level in telling this story; conversations carry out during menial chores, there are pauses in conversations, reactions are both immediate and prolonged. This unemphatic realism is the subtle resonance that makes the film flow, the story and tone are matched in significance, the artistic thrust doesn’t sacrifice one for the other, and expressive flourishes occur without provocation, much to our benefit.
There’s a clever use of sound and music, both diegetic and non. Like much of the film, the audio components of the movie retain an instinctive feel without any amateurish bent. Making brilliant use of the remote environment Jean Pierre Dikongue-Pipa digs out sequences that verge on the surreal. A slow pan as our two lovers embrace is a delicately framed moment of inherent beauty, a montage of a frustrated Ngando cuts down a massive tree. At the same time, Ndome’s ousted by fellow villagers, and a final denouncement has a witchy, dreamlike impact that casts a meaningful hypnotic gaze. While the first act is hard to access, Muna Moto finds its voice, and it pays to listen to this unique story materialize.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: Among the many films restored by or a part of Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project, Muna Moto is another excellent title (among many) that could find their way into another volume of the aforementioned group. While there haven’t been any overt hints that another World Cinema Project volume is on the horizon, we can rest assured that Scorsese is working in tandem with distributors like Criterion/Janus Films to bring us great, lesser-seen movies from around the world.