Bantú Mama Image

Bantú Mama

By Michael Talbot-Haynes | December 7, 2022

NOW ON NETFLIX! Alert the authorities, as Dominican director Ivan Herrera is smuggling a family drama hidden inside his crime thriller Bantú Mama. Written by Herrera and star Clarisse Albrecht, the film is about Emma (Albrecht), a French woman of Cameroonian descent seemingly on vacation at a tropical resort. She secretly accepts some drug-laced luggage but gets busted by customs in the Dominican Republic.

After a daring escape, Emma makes her way to Santo Domingo, the most dangerous neighborhood on the island. She is rescued by a pack of children who hide her from the police. The three kids live in an abandoned dwelling and are the streetwise little girl T.I.N.A. (Scarlet Reyes), the older boy $hulo (Arturo Perez), and the younger Cuki (Euris Javiel). While $hulo gets deeper into the gang life that rules the streets, Emma becomes a surrogate parent to the kids. Little Cuki is fascinated with her and her ties to the Bantu tribe, while T.I.N.A. notices Emma’s positive influence on him. Meanwhile, the police hunt the crime-infested district for Emma, who sees danger rising on the horizon.

Herrera grew up in Santo Domingo and shows it to us inside and out. The slum landscapes are shot masterfully by Sebastian Cabrera Chelin. You can feel the floors crumbling beneath the rickety favelas stacked one on top of the other. This increases the immediacy the audience feels inside the rush of the gangster life portrayed. The architecture of dilapidation the director submerges you into is painstakingly immense.

“…gets deeper into the gang life that rules the streets, Emma becomes a surrogate parent to the kids.”

Bantú Mama is also engaging due to its top-class performances. Albrecht does an excellent job of presenting a very complex and imperfect person. She makes you feel all the corners Emma finds herself backed into. The child actors turn in some phenomenal work. Perez only hints at the child still left when he acts hard. His acceptance of his dead-end destiny is heartbreaking. Javiel is bubbling with wonder despite the downward pressures of poverty. Reyes knocks down all her bowling pins. She is a genuine star, a tough girl for the new century. The family drama at the heart of this film is throbbingly strong thanks to the cast.

The only major gaping flaw is the meandering first ten minutes before the drugs come out. Now, I respect Herrera’s intentions, as seeing Albrecht get ready and hit the resort as a normal vacationer lets us get to bond with her character without judgment. However, we are left without a reason to keep watching unless we dig watching strangers on holiday. In the age of streaming, this is potentially deadly. If this was being broadcast on T.V., then one may flip through channels and then come back to it when the story finally begins. With streaming, chances are anyone who leaves during this long ramp up will not come back. Such a shame, as once we get to the drugs, we are off to the races at a breakneck pace.

Also, why the long build-up when the premise is already publicized? We don’t bond with Emma until she is in trouble for smuggling drugs anyway. While it may sound crass to suggest altering your artistic vision to the demands of how the film is distributed, Bantú Mama provides ample evidence as to why that is a good idea. Also, a few more mishaps along the way to the conclusion may have rounded out the narrative better, which feels a little rushed at 76 minutes. Still, this is a wild ride along the razor’s edge that may drop out from under you at any moment.

Bantú Mama (2022)

Directed: Ivan Herrera

Written: Ivan Herrera, Clarisse Albrecht

Starring: Clarisse Albrecht, Scarlet Reyes, Arturo Perez, Euris Javiel, etc.

Movie score: 7.5/10

Bantú Mama Image

"…a wild ride along the razor's edge..."

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