Writer-director Maria João Ganga’s remarkable debut is also one of the first films to emerge from Angola since the end of that country’s decades-long civil war in 2002. Set in the capital city of Luanda in 1991, a year that saw one of many short-lived lulls in the fighting, Hollow City keeps the horrors of war at its periphery as Ganga explores the aftermath and legacy of violence in the life of a 12-year-old boy. N’dala arrives in Luanda on a military cargo plane with a group of war orphans in the care of a missionary nun. But between the plane and the mission’s waiting bus, N’dala steals off the tarmac to wander the city’s forbidding streets in search of a way back to his rural village. As N’dala follows his curiosity and his hunger, Ganga takes us on a child’s-eye urban tour reminiscent of Iranian films such as The Mirror and The White Balloon. N’dala’s every encounter — with a homeless man, a fisherman, a street vendor — plays out as naturalist portrait, cultural critique and pregnant metaphor for the war-torn country’s competing forces of hope, madness and greed. Eventually, N’dala is befriended by Ze, an older schoolboy who happens to be starring in a school play about a wandering warrior in search of an unselfish man. In Ganga’s assured hands, such an obvious parallel is anything but heavy-handed. She works, instead, by building subtle connections and impressions across scenes and compositions. When we first see N’dala, he’s looking out from the window of a plane — a simple image that, by the end of the movie, powerfully underscores the innocence with which he meets this violent world: He is looking for his parents in the sky, just as the nun said. Ganga’s feelings about her country’s current fragile peace are most evident in the film’s lack of sentimentality. Even when the story takes a sudden tragic turn, we accept it as a fact of life in a country where nothing is ever certain.
Other recommended new releases: Cemetery Man (DVD); Clark Gable: The Signature Collection: Boom Town, China Seas, Dancing Lady, Mogambo, San Francisco, Wife vs. Secretary (DVD); Equinox (DVD); The Loved One (DVD). Also released this week: DVD: The Adventures of Superboy: The Complete First Season; The Adventures of Superman: The Complete Third and Fourth Seasons; Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; Charlie Chan Collection, Vol. 1: Charlie Chan in Egypt, Charlie Chan in London, Charlie Chan in Paris, Charlie Chan in Shanghai, Eran Trece; The Cult of the Suicide Bomber; Eight Below; En Route to Baghdad; Fatwa; A Fine Madness; The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight; The Hills Have Eyes; I Love You, Alice B. Toklas; In Country; Justice League of America: Season 2; The King of Queens: The Complete Fifth Season; KORN: Live on the Other Side; Krypto the Superdog, Vol. 1: Cosmic Canine; Lois & Clark: The Complete Third Season; Look, Up in the Sky!: The Amazing Story of Superman; Louis L’Amour’s Shaughnessy: The Iron Marshal; Married . . . With Children: The Complete Fifth Season; Mary Tyler Moore: Season 4; NewsRadio: The Complete Fourth Season; Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor); NYPD Blue: Season 4; The Omen: The Collector’s Edition; Petulia; Shanghai Panic; Smallville: Lois & Clark — Adventures of Superman: Season 1; Superman: Brainiac Attacks; Superman: The Animated Series, Vol. 3; Syriana; The Valley of the Dolls;What’s Eating Gilbert Grape: Special Collector’s Edition; Why We Fight.
Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes