Last Friday, the film ‘Rujeko’ premiered to an audience of about 100 at the Alliance Francaise auditorium in Harare. ‘Rujeko’ features theatre actress Rutendo Chigudu (R Tendo Tapiwa) as the protagonist in her film debut, and follows the life of a complex character, Rujeko, who has been through a traumatic childhood experience. As a result, she lives a hermit’s life in Harare Gardens.
A salient aspect of the film is that it features no dialogue and is premised largely on facial and bodily gestures, and interpretation. Rujeko is deaf and through this stylistic choice, we get to experience life as she lives it. As a result, the film is more open to various understandings and meanings than might ordinarily be the case. Also, through Rujeko’s childlike exploration of her environment, we are introduced to a variety of characters; some familiar to the Gardens’ setting (for example, an event photographer in the park) and some more sinister.
Rujeko’s peaceful existence with her environment, however, takes a dark turn when she is forced to confront a character who has played a significant role in her past. This experience compels her to return to painful memories and places, which inevitably set off emotions she has to confront.
Agency or anguish
As an interpretative film, what is open to debate is whether Rujeko depicts a young woman of agency, or a woman in anguish. In one early scene, we see her browbeat a man who threatens her in her park environs; she walks away with a bounce to her step that elicits a knowing laughter of victory from the audience. Even her dress, which is essentially a patchwork of worn dirty pieces of cloth, has an eccentric grace to it.
“Rujeko is all about a woman who does what she wants,” notes Keriah of her relative independence in this setting. “She decides to live in the park without paying any bills.”
In many ways, Rujeko represents a free spirit living among the trees and nature; her own paradise of sorts. But at the same time, she is driven to this space by a need for escape from a deep pain and fear she eventually has to confront. That she is homeless and exposed to the hazards of abject poverty marks her a woman of deep anguish. Also, the film resolves itself to a conclusion that can be argued to be either emancipatory or a further definition of her confinement.
It is ultimately for the viewer to decide.
A different view of Harare
A key feature of the film, and one which was highlighted frequently in feedback from the audience, is its cinematography which depicts Harare’s CBD in cosmopolitan and dynamic frames. The focal areas of depiction obviously include the Harare Gardens, featuring a view of imposing monuments such as the Reserve Bank as part of the city’s skyline. Also quite prominent are views of Second Street, Jason Moyo Avenue and other parts of town which – through, for instance, time lapse photography and creative angling – frame the narrative in provocative ways the encourage a deeper interaction with the setting. As a result, the cinematography adds to the interpretative understanding of scenes and features, and encourages the viewer to see what might otherwise be seen as the banality of Harare life in new ways.
“The film was meant to show international audiences what you can do with nothing,” said its Director and Producer, Naim Keriah, in reference to the fact that the film was produced on a very limited budget and with no support from funders or investors.
As a result, the film’s small crew – all present at the viewing – grew what appears an intimate relationship premised on a commitment to ensuring the public release of the film. With about four months of filming, ‘Rujeko’ took three years to finalise, with the crew going to great lengths – including borrowing equipment when available – to complete certain processes. One crew member jokingly remarked during the conversation after the viewing that his wife almost divorced him because of his extreme commitment to the project.
There, however, are some other aspects of the film – some quite pivotal to the storyline – which are also left to this open-ended understanding. As a result, they lend themselves to potential omission or misunderstanding. Personally, it was only after consulting the crew that I understood the deeper significance of one of the characters who plays an important role in the narrative. As a result, the film made greater sense to me upon replaying the scenes in my mind after the filming.
Nonetheless, the general response from the audience was warm and congratulatory. The crew also informed the audience that it intends to hold a larger premiere for the film later in the year with the film set, thereafter, to appear at various international film festivals.
All images taken from https://www.facebook.com/RujekoFilm/timeline