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Maangamizi, The Ancient One

Sunday, Bloomington residents had the rare opportunity to be among the very first Americans to view the African film "Maangamizi -- The Ancient One." The film, winner of the first place trophy at the 1998 Zanzibar International Film Festival, proves to be a magical look at the spiritual awakening of two seemingly unrelated women.

Samehe (Amandina Lihamba), a patient at a Tanzania psychiatric hospital, is a middle-aged woman who has not spoken for more than 20 years. Her silence, which is brought on by the sickening horrors that her father committed against her and her mother years ago, aches to be broken. So, Samehe looks to Maangamizi (Mwanajuma Ali Hassan), "the Grandmother of all grandmothers" who often inhabits her dreams, for help in recovering her voice and in finding peace with her father and mother.

Asira (BarbaraO) is an African-American doctor who travels from America to Tanzania to work at the same hospital where Samehe resides. There, Asira becomes heavily involved in Samehe's case. Their ensuing relationship leads Asira to delve into her haunting Mississippi past and, furthermore, elevates both of them to a higher understanding of themselves and the world.

"Maangamizi -- The Ancient One" is an intriguing film that dips into a part of the human psyche that American movies rarely attack -- the underpinnings of the human soul and its breadth that stretches out to reach the Homo sapien collective.

The film's greatest strength lies in Lihamba's captivating acting. She mutes her Samehe with all the cold, yet fiery desperation necessary. As the plot moves along, each of her movements and startling words she utters leads to the believable awakening of Samehe.

In addition to Lihamba's riveting acting, Hassan also delivers a distinguished performance as Maangamizi. She instills all the intellectual and mysterious nuances necessary to make her Maangamizi a believable spiritual guide.

Unfortunately, the film's other major actor, BarbaraO, never equals Lihamba's intensity, leaving a majority of the movie's key scenes with an unbalanced feel. BarbaraO's awkward Asira is too stiff for her own good, with nearly every syllable sounding forced and every muscle movement seeming more calculated than necessary.

Directors Ron Mulvihill and Martin Mhando and cinematographer Willie Dawkins create an oftentimes beautiful visual playground for the actors to work in. One unexpected and stunning scene is shot from within a pond looking up above the water at a discussion between Samehe and Maangamizi. Some of the best moments surround the flashbacks of Asira, with the most memorable being a sequence shot with a hand-held camera following a young Asira through the golden clutches of a Mississippi field.

The captivating acting and photography of "Maangamizi -- The Ancient One" lose a lot of their edge in the script by Queenae Taylor Mulvihill. Mulvihill wonderfully develops the story of Samehe and conjures up some poignant moments between her and Asira. Unfortunately, because Mulvihill only delivers a sparse and often cryptic back story about Asira and does very little to lay groundwork for Asira's climactic enlightening, the viewer has difficulty fully caring about Asira and her importance to the overall plot.

Despite its flaws, "Maangamizi -- The Ancient One" is a unique piece of cinema that should be experienced. So, if possible, trek out to Fine Arts 102 at 7:30 p.m. today to see the final showing of this film.

from:, from Indiana University's student news website, the Indiana Daily Student, © 1999

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