If Wakandan boffins put Afrofuturism back on the map in Black Panther, this short, quirky Angolan feature is Afrofuturism when the service guarantee runs out on the technology. It’s a magic-realist parable with the thinnest shrinkwrapping of sci-fi: Angola’s capital Luanda is afflicted by a strange plague of air conditioning units falling from buildings, as if they are committing suicide. Security guard Matacedo (José Kiteculo) is tasked with heading out into the street to recover an AC for his sweltering boss, some kind of city bigwig, hectored by his housemaid Zézinha (Filomena Manuel).
Director Fradique does pick at a vein of social commentary – the cooling crisis notably affects the poor more than the rich – but it is just one minor element in a swirling, enigmatic experience. Tracked by a lilting Steadicam, the inquisitive-faced Matacedo walks the cities’ roads, corridors and homes in search of the unit. He seems to telepathically ask questions about its whereabouts, stops to play chequers with bottletops, and finally winds up at a repair shop run by Mr Mino (David Caracol), a greybearded oddball who claims the ACs are falling for a reason: “Just as the fruits come loose from the branches when ripe.” He insists that they are recording the city’s memories, and plugs the units into cathode-ray TVs to grainily display them.
The machines have an almost animistic importance here, down to a scene in which one is laid out on a funereal bed as mourners wail around it. Matacedo’s search on the streets starts to blur into the reminiscences he watches at Mino’s shop. There’s something both comfortingly dissociated and warmly engaged about Air Conditioner, as it lulls Matacedo along on his quest to composer Aline Frazão’s superb, melancholy score, making the film a kind of dreamscape elegy to Luanda. The tech may be on the blink, but this striking debut makes humanity seem like a beautiful malfunction.
Air Conditioner is available on 20 July on Mubi.