April 29, 2005
The Hero, 2004
Each day, a decorated war veteran and landmine victim named Vitório, having been discharged from the military after the government issued troop demobilization orders at the end of the 30 year civil war, waits in the wings of an overcrowded, physical rehabilitation hospital to see if his petition for a prosthetic leg has finally been granted. Earning the sympathy of a staff physician, Vitório is placed at the head of the waiting list, outfitted with a new prosthesis, and expediently sent away with the qualification that this would be the only gesture that the doctor can offer to help him in his new life. With his newfound mobility (and freedom), Vitório leaves the hospital to return to civilian life after a 20-year forcible conscription, only to find that widespread unemployment, minimal government transition assistance, and his physical disability leave him with few opportunities to rebuild his life in the chaotic social climate of postwar Angola. Resorting to living in the streets, the disillusioned Vitório begins to spend his aimless evenings at a seedy bar where he meets a hostess named Judite who, several years earlier, had lost custody of her son. In another part of the city, a troubled adolescent boy named Manu, already prone to mischief and petty theft, is sent home along with the rest of his classmates after their teacher announces that the teacher's union has declared a strike and is suspending classes indefinitely. Involuntarily separated from his parents during the war, young Manu lives with his elderly grandmother who still cherishes the (perhaps elusive) hope that his father would one day return to them. In the meantime, Manu's teacher Joana, the privileged daughter of a Portuguese expatriate, attempts to provide some semblance of stability to Manu's tumultuous life by visiting his grandmother's home and encouraging Manu to study during the hiatus. Nevertheless, despite their attempts to instill a sense of discipline in the young boy, Manu continues to commit petty crimes in the hopes of securing enough money to embark on a cross-country trip to search for his missing father. Inevitably, the paths of Vitorio, Judite, and Manu would converge on an actual "other side of the tracks" in the city of Luanda and, in the process, reveal the tragedy of displacement and a lost generation rended by a protracted and devastating war. A thoughtful and compassionate exposition on the process of reconciliation and human resilience, The Hero incisively captures the travails of ordinary people as they struggle to find their place in the amorphous and rapidly transforming socio-economic landscape of a new Angola. From the opening sequence depicting Vitório's daily hospital ritual, filmmaker Zézé Gamboa introduces the film's recurring theme of replacement and surrogacy that is subsequently reflected in the characters' forging of makeshift families as a human imperative towards healing and closure. It is within this deeply humanist message of surrogacy, interdependence, and connection that Gamboa illustrates that true national recovery is achieved, not with the laying down of arms at the end of the conflict, but with the restoration of communality, human dignity, and inner peace.