The World in Three Colours

Aderinsola Ajao of the 2013 Talent Press Durban reviews Joao Viana's black and white feature debut THE BATTLE OF TABATO.


In the aftermath of war, achieving peace becomes a communal effort. This comes to the fore in Joao Viana's unique, tri-colour world portrayed in THE BATTLE OF TABATO, shown in the competition section at the 2013 Durban International Film Festival. Shot entirely in black and white, the film is set in the actual village of Tabato in Guinea Bissau and is spiced with local music.

Its plot is based largely on real-life events and set against the backdrop of the after-effects of Guinea Bissau's (then called Portuguese Guinea) independence struggle of 1973. To add to the sense of reality, the actors bear their own names, with some re-enacting their personal experiences as part of the drama. Musician Idrissa and school teacher Fatu drive the film's romantic sub-plot. Engaged to be married, both are scheduled to re-unite at Tabato for the purpose of healing the wounds of Fatu's mentally unstable father Baio - an army veteran, burdened with the memory of a war he still believes is on-going, thirty-six years after it has ended.

Fatu is travelling with her father, who has recently returned from exile in Portugal to be at his daughter's wedding. Idrissa is on his way back to the village in the company of a radio show host, to show him the life and music of the village that is home to the last of the Djindis, a group of touring musicians, who are now mostly settled in Tabato. It is en route to Tabato that the rest of the film unfurls - in certain instances like a series of images in a slide show. This happens usually in the scenes with Fatu and the unwell Baio.

In such scenes, Viana establishes a tableaux of the actors before they begin to converse in dialogue that is also heavily punctuated with silence. Chimes of the balafon (an indigenous xylophone) occasionally complement the on-screen action as we follow the characters' return to Tabato, a return that is not without its tragedy.

A Q&A session followed the screening with Viana taking questions about his style, especially why he filmed in black and white. He responded saying that he literally sees life in "black and white with a bit of red." It is through his eyes that we therefore see THE BATTLE OF TABATO, shot in black and white but with no hint of red.

Viana's 80-minute feature debut is as much about war and peace as it is about the music and traditions of Tabato, home to the Mandinkas. Beautifully made and in its own unique style, elements in THE BATTLE OF TABATO - including the reference to otherworldly forces – come together well, especially in giving depth to the Bissau-Guinean, and by extension, aspects of the African existence, which are usually under-explored.