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Neptune Frost

Neptune Frost

[…] Anisia Uzeyman and Saul Williams have created a fluoro-charged, atmospheric Gesamtkunstwerk that seduces all the senses in its paradoxical treatment of the elements.

[…] «Crash the market with poetry» is the rally cry from beneath the glitter and bioluminescent bodies: a distribution of the sensible that makes and acts affectively.

Podcast

Neptune Frost | Interview with Cheryl Isheja

Interview by Nicolas Bézard and Giuseppe Di Salvatore (French) with the actress Cheryl Isheja (Neptune) about Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman's film «Neptune Frost» at the Bildrausch Filmfest Basel, June 2022 | Production: Olivier Legras

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Anisia Uzeyman and Saul Williams have created a fluoro-charged, atmospheric Gesamtkunstwerk that seduces all the senses in its paradoxical treatment of the elements. Through verse, costume, song, sound and movement, we see them hacking the hacks that make life easier for tech end-users.

Time is fragmented in its futuristic dream sequences, yet offers chronological unity by referencing Rwanda’s war and ongoing exploitative practices of mining coltan for the international tech industry. Space is de-territorialised through the safety of dreams that pluck these young people (the future generation of Rwanda) from university life and the mines, wiring them into bush dome huts as an alternative dimension to the Manicheism of global AI systems. 

There is no apology in the film’s agitprop political messaging. Williams whacks us hard with his words, sung or rapped, unconcealed and far from subtle gestures:
Your sirens and your guns
you know we paid for it all.
Your scripture severing tongues
you know we paid for it all.
With oil and our blood
you know we paid for it all.
We won’t be silenced, no
you know we paid for it all

While traditional features of Rwandan life can be seen to support the integration of musical elements with African (not Afro) Futurism, the political speech is anti-tribal, gender “woke” and envisaging of a neo-Marxist-come-anarchist revolution with a trans person as its “motherboard” (Cheryl Isheja first played by Elvis NGabo). It is a relevant reach here for Donna Harraway’s ideas of the ontological potential in blurring all boundaries through our Cyborgian imagination.

«I was born at 23» says Neptune about their story of transition. A saviour, clad in red satin, heels and nonbinary desires provides an alternative eschatology destroying the dominant narratives of a region still victim to tradition, superstition, bigotry and tribal violence. The “problems” of their world are discussed between characters with names such as “Memory” (Eliane Umuhire), “Innocent” (Dorcy Rugamba), “Psychology” (Trésor Niyongabo) and “Matyr-Loser-King” (Bertrand Ninteretse – our hacking hero with a recognisable namesake) in mini-Socratic dialogues that suddenly devolve into pulsing, twitching bodies grooving at a “bush doof”.

The materiality of extraction is found most powerful within the costuming and art direction. It is deliciously low-fi and proto-virtual in its use of recycled computer refuse, copper wire, chips and powerboards. Masks and opulent head dresses glimmer and shine from refuse that has been twisted, gilded and moulded. All that metal on flesh imbibed and idolatrised with animistic attention. “Unanimous Goldmine” they whisper in salutation. They are members of a resource that dialectically destroys and empowers their secret society.

Simple beats and breaks, synthetic play, buzzes, beeps, percussion, pedals, dirty guitar, Theremin transcendence and ornamental melodies unfold the story – as all good musicals should. Williams’ music manifests through performances on D.I.Y instruments emitting other worldly sounds, bringing a cohesiveness to the film’s baroque construction. The hectic combination of elements could easily alienate the viewer but the music (more than action and plot) brings us to a satisfying and meaningful whole.  

«Crash the market with poetry» is the rally cry from beneath the glitter and bioluminescent bodies: a distribution of the sensible that makes and acts affectively, but will this strategy of futuring be more than just a hack of these dangerous economies? The film’s end shows that Uzeyman and Williams are neither naïve or earnest in their hope, despite the melange of ideas they throw at it. The problem is, was and will always be, humans.

Neptune Frost certainly deserves more long-term attention as a classic of alternative film musicals. I can feel its event potential. 

 

First published: March 31, 2022

Neptune Frost | Film | Anisia Uzeyman, Saul Williams | RWA-USA 2021 | 105’ | Festival International du Film de Fribourg 2022, Bildrausch Filmfest Basel 2022

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