Love Actually's Kris Marshall stars as Larry, an endearingly goofy ethnomusicologist from Jersey who travels to the forests of Central Africa for a passion project: recording the music and microcosmic sounds of the Bayaka Pygmies, with whom he previously cohabitated. Based on a memoir by Louis Sarno—who fell in love with a tribeswoman and still lives with the clan more than two decades later—director Lavinia Currier's Oka!, a loose-limbed tapestry of cultural nuances, atmosphere, and song, is a tuneful tribute to the Bayakan spirit. Matching Naples-scape Passione in its celebratory tone but filmed with all the staged-documentary performances, eccentric visual ironies, and caught-wildlife moments of a Werner Herzog narrative, Oka! delights only when it isn't trying to keep its plot turning. That plot, such as it is, basically revolves around naïve guide Larry's hapless ability to get lost, hoodwinked, and appear right in the path of splashed mud. There's a detour involving a bottom-line official (Isaach De Bankolé as the film's emblem of modernity) who exploits the pygmies for their elephant meat. Meant to open eyes to a plight still endured by these hunter-gatherers, it's a well-intentioned detail but not as thrilling as, say, three lake-bathing ladies drumming a song with only water as their instrument.
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