LFF 2022: The African Desperate – Review

Release Date – 21st October 2022, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 39 minutes, Director – Martin Syms

Art student Palace (Diamond Stingily) is thrown into a heady mix of parties as she says goodbye to her friends on her final day of college.

It should be stated that I’m almost certainly not the target audience for The African Desperate. I’m very likely almost the complete opposite. This perhaps explains in part just why I was turned away from its series of raves and parties as much as I was. Over the course of the best part of 90 minutes we see art student Palace (Diamond Stingily) embracing her final night in education through visiting what appears to be a number of different parties, saying goodbye to her friends and solidifying relationships as the night goes on. Yet, in the first ten minutes we see her sat down talking to teachers and lecturers about her work, what she’s wanting to express, her identity and her future.

It’s an interesting opening which begins to set in place some of the techniques and stylings which stand out within the film. Every, so often an old-style meme will pop up in the top right-hand corner of the screen, or some conversations will be shown with characters looking into the camera like on a video call. Some of these admittedly work better than others but they undoubtedly create a specific feel for what’s to come, and create an interesting voice from co-writer (alongside Rocket Caleshu) and director Martine Syms – making her feature debut having prominently worked in the art world, her knowledge and work showing in the nature of the film.

Shortly after we see Palace – having insisted she’s not going to a party despite DJ’ing at one – go through various different styles of rave, trip and conversation as one party leads into the other. On one or two occasions the way the film was leaning reminded me slightly of Brian Welsh’s brilliant 2019 film Beats in the way in which it showed its characters letting go and being caught up in the music. However, in the case of that feature there was build-up and you felt a connection to the characters, particularly in that moment. In the case of The African Desperate it’s difficult to form that connection, particularly with the way in which things move along. It eventually becomes a confusing set of events where one moment leads into another, unclear as to whether we’re at a new party, the same one altered by drugs or just something completely different such as held in the tint of a lucid dream sequence.

Again, much of this could simply come down to the fact that I am not the target audience for this film. As I sat there are watched I simply became more confused as to what was going on, what was meant to be happening and where we actually were in the third or fourth variation of a drink and drug scene. There’s every possibility that I simply didn’t understand what was going on. There’s a chance that this could one day be viewed as something misunderstood thanks to a cult status at some point in the future. All these thoughts came to mind at some point as I tried to understand just why I wasn’t connecting with the film until simply landing on the fact that I just wasn’t connecting with it due to what felt like a lack of structure.

There’s some interesting direction within The African Desperate, and I look forward to seeing what Martine Syms does next, and indeed how this particular film develops and works with a broader audience. However, personally there was little to connect with to properly be brought into a world that you truly have to be brought into to properly ride with the film. Running from one moment to another with no clear bridge between to help with progression of both events and characters it just creates a bigger distance from itself until it continues to appear to move along with little to no connection.

With how little there was to connect with in the various extensive party sequences The African Desperate is not for me, however it may well find an audience and the direction and styles shown by Martin Syms create interest for what she will do in the future.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

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