"It was a building, maybe a world to have a world it’s enough to have people and emotions, the emotions, raining down inside people’s bodies, spill into dreams, people may be no more than ambling dreams of melted emotions in the blood contained by the skins of our oh-so-human bodies, we can call that world ‘life’.”
—from Transparent City, by Ondjaki
Decades before Air Conditioner, there was a generation who got lost in the darkness of the long night that followed the warm and bright hope of our independence. They were the first generation of Angolan filmmakers, who believed and fought for a "Cinema of Urgency,” as the incredible filmmaker and poet Ruy Duarte de Carvalho would label it. A Cinema that would let us know who we are in every single corner of our country and soul. Vitório Henriques, a director of photography that was part of that movement and later would be my photography teacher and film mentor, taught me to see with care the lives that exist behind a picture—the life of those on the screen, the life of those off the screen, and the life of those who make the screen. I didn’t know at the time, but he was teaching me important lessons about filmmaking. To make films is to remember, to share and to resist.
For almost ten years I wanted to do a project about Luanda’s many security guards. Growing up during the ’90s, I remember in my long hours as a kid, home alone, observing outside my window the city yet not filled with these workers. After the war ended, the number of men doing this job skyrocketed. Most of them were war veterans who changed their uniforms, just like the owners of the security guards companies—old generals who also trade their uniforms for more corporate ones and created this army of forgotten men. Men who work over hours, poorly paid, many days nonstop, with no place to sleep but a broken chair, no restroom, doing all sorts of their employees' house chores, and most often ill-treated by them. Men who are conditioned by the absence of workers’ rights and a welfare state to protect them after decades of war and to give them a country with education, health and housing for all. Matacedo, the main character of the film played by José Kiteculo, embodies the limbo present in the everyday life of many citizens of Luanda - a waiting game for a future that never arrives.
The character of Zezinha, played by Filomena José, represents another important worker in our society who is made invisible by classism, the housemaid. Her character is part of a working class of women that very often inherit their mother’s, cousin's, sister’s or friend's job due to employees' abusive demands and the worker's desperation. Whatever happens, employers want their clothes washed, food on the table and the house clean, or the air conditioner fixed even when all of the city's air conditioners are falling. They work under very oppressive conditions, with low pay and no social security. You depend on the benevolence of your employee, even when you retire. As I write this text I can once again see my neighbor’s kitchen window in the building across mine. Every day I see a woman wearing maid clothes and working 24 hours a day. I wake up and she is working, I go to sleep and she is still working. To think that a lot of the casting agencies didn’t want their actors to play a domestic worker or a security guard tells me where we are as a society.
Mr. Avelino, the real life electronic shop owner that inspired Mr. Mino’s character, played by David Caracol, opened the doors of his sacred shop to our crew due to the special relationship he built with Ery Claver (co-writer and director of photography), who previously made a short film with him, Lúcia No Céu Com Semáforos (2019). Mr. Avelino has been standing guard over the shop for the last 46 years. The last owner was a Portuguese who flew from Angola when we became independent in 1975 and just asked him to look over the shop while he was gone. Well, Mr. Avelino became the shop owner. Every day, just like clockwork, he opens the shop, breaks for lunch and closes when all the other stores close downtown. The odd fact is that he doesn’t have any customers, only people that come to dump their electronic garbage, which he insists on saying that it only needs time and some fixing.
Mr. Avelino reminded me of the six years I spent working on an archive project that led to my first feature documentary called Independência (2015). With this project I was able to travel within our country and listen to the memories of my parents' generation, of the men and women who fought and gave us our independence. Today they face the harsh reality of their broken dreams with the exact quotation: “This is not what we agreed on.” It’s a generation that became distant from the present and in some sort of way seems stuck just like Mr. Mino's character, who is trying to make sense of the present by saving what's left over from yesterday. This angst lived by Mr. Mino is brilliantly captured by the film’s composer Aline Frazão with the song "Mino’s Dream" in the opening credits of the film. With every piece of music she created for the film, Aline was able to bring the soul of the characters and of the city closer to everyone who watched the film. I confess, the soundtrack, especially this one song, saved me from the worn-out process that was the post-production of the film. It made me remember what the heart of the story was once again.
As you can see, the characters, the locations, the memories and the daily life of this film are as real as the air we breathe. The encounter of all these characters is what Luanda is all about. The effect that each one of them has on each other is what keeps the city afloat.
On behalf of the entire crew and cast, I would like to say that we are deeply grateful for all the affection this film has received from all over the world. It is a pleasure to share this new beginning of Air Conditioner with MUBI and its audience.