The Blue Eyes of Yonta

English Title: The Blue Eyes of Yonta

Country of Origin: Guinea-Bissau

Studio: Vermedia, Arco-Íris, Eurocreation Production, Rádiotelevisão Portugesa

Director: Flora Gomès

Producer(s): Paulo de Sousa

Screenplay: Manuel Rambout Barcelos, David Lang, Ina Césaire, Flora Gomès

Cinematographer: Dominique Gentil

Art Director: Miguel Mendes

Editor: Dominique Paris

Runtime: 90 minutes

Genre: Fiction, Drama

Language: Criolo

Year: 1991

Volume: African / Nigerian

Synopsis:

Flora Gomes’ first fiction film Mortu Nega (1988) – the first fiction film made in Guinea-Bissau –, depicts the birth of Guinea-Bissau as an independent nation after a long war of liberation against Portuguese colonial forces. The heroine, Diminga, is a strong and determined woman searching for her husband, a guerilla fighter during the twelve-year war. Gomes’ second film, The Blue Eyes of Yonta (which will subsequently be referred to as Blue Eyes) was made in 1991, and its narrative can be considered a loose continuation of Mortu Nega. Ambrus, a carpenter, and his wife Belante (Bia Gomes, who played Diminga in Mortu Nega) live a comfortable and content life with their daughter Yonta, and young son Amilcar. Belante is a telephone operator whilst her daughter works as a sales assistant, thus not only making themselves financially independent, but also economically productive agents in the development of their society. While Yonta’s unrequited love for Vicente, and Zé’s love for Yonta provide the main threads to the plot, Blue Eyes is an exploration of the day-to-day life of a close-knit family’s relationships with their friends, as well as their hopes and aspirations in contemporary society. 


Critique:

Blue Eyes is a complex and rich assessment of post-independent Guinea-Bissau, its development and its people’s search for identity. Populism and nationalism initially created a sense of possibility, but these ideals are shown in the film to have been thwarted by the harsh post-colonial reality. Although Blue Eyes is primarily concerned with broken ideals for an equitable and prosperous society, this critique focuses on Gomes’ progressive conceptualisation of gender and female identity, one which elides the traditional binary opposition between men and women, constructing women as independent and full members of society, occupying both the domestic and public spheres.

 

Throughout Blue Eyes those we see walking or running through the city’s streets are mostly women and children. The recurrent use of long shots creates a sense of their appropriation of the public space through distance being covered. The epitome of this appropriation is probably the scene where Belante’s friend Santa, has rearranged her furniture in front of her house after her eviction from it, re-creating a living-room in open space. In contrast, Ambrus does not engage with the world outside of the domestic sphere. He works from his compound, and at no point do we see him outside of it. When Belante suggests he accompany Yonta and their comrade in-arms and friend Vicente to a nightclub, he declines, stating that he has all he needs at home. Thus, Gomes presents the viewer with the unusual situation of a husband in the adopted reversed role of solely inhabiting the domestic sphere, albeit making a living within it.

 

The questioning of gender roles is further explored in the character of Amilcar (the namesake of revolutionary leader Amilcar Cabral, of course), the streetwise and resourceful young son, when he resolves to cook for his family as a surprise. Though Belante is not pleased at the failed attempt, Ambrus is shown to be complicit with his son, defending his gesture. Again, the male assumes with ease a role traditionally fulfilled by a woman. Amilcar’s unselfconscious act can be construed as a replica of his parents’ own dynamics of their participation in family life.

 

Both Amilcar and Yonta represent the generation born after independence, but Yonta does not share her brother’s keen sense of their country’s history. A spirited and fashionable young woman, she is both candid and confident. Yonta unashamedly embraces a materialistic life of consumerism, mistaking its nature and function for her personal choice made possible through the previous generation’s fight for freedom. Yonta’s character deeply disrupts the dynamics of the narrative and problematises the future of Guinea-Bissau. It revisits the theme of the centrality of money, this time with a character uninterested in capitalism’s mechanisms because she is unaware of its adverse effects. This may be a subtle indicator from Gomes that the formation of (a middle) class oblivious of its historical past can cause further social dislocation. The eulogy of the beauty of “blue” eyes in the Swedish poem copied by Zé for Yonta, reminds us of the damaging abandonment of local notions of beauty for the consumption of inappropriate imported perceptions.

 

Blue Eyes takes a feminist stance in its rejection of an essentialist approach to gender and in its examination of gender differentiation. Women, young and old, are depicted as self-assured and emancipated, and with the character of Belante, Gomes provides his female audience with a refreshing role model. Whereas the men’s experience of post-coloniality is negative or at best ambivalent, it is the women and children who take the development of society in their stride, acting as direct agents of change. And in Gomes’ words: “This generation (the children) is the hope, it is the future. It will mature with our way of thinking, with our dynamic, but with one more important thing, their being aware of African realities and African culture. […] As long as we in Africa don’t understand that black is as beautiful as blue and the sun as beautiful as the snow, we will not move forward.” Despite the surrealistic and thus ambiguous conclusion to Blue Eyes, it is indeed the younger generation who first awakens after the wedding party of Yonta’s friend’s Elena, and who embraces the day and their future with aplomb and optimism.

Author of this review: Rosa Abidi