(The Blue Eyes of Yonta)
Director: Flora Gomes
Production: Vermedia (Lisbon), Cooperativa Arco-Íris (Bissau), Eurocréation Production (Paris), and Rádiotelevisão Portuguesa (Lisbon); color, 35mm; running time: 90 minutes. Released 1992.
Producer: Paulo de Sousa; screenplay: Flora Gomes, Ina Césair, David Lang, and Manuel Rambout Barcelos; assistant directors: Manuel João Ěcuas, Odete Somedo, and Gildo Mendes; photography: Dominique Gentil; editor: Dominique Páris; sound: Pierre Donnadieu; sound mixer: Anita Fernandez; costumes: Seco Faye and Teresa Campos; music: Adriano G. Ferreira-Atchutchi; set design: Miguel Mendes.
Cast: Maysa Marta ( Yonta ); Pedro Dias ( Zé ); António Simã Mendes ( Vicente ); Mohamed Lamine Seidi ( Amílcar ); Bia Gomes ( Belante ); Dina Vaz ( Mana ).
Awards: Audience Award, Würzburg International Filmweekend, 1994.
Deffontaines, Thérèse-Marie, "Les Yeux bleus de Yonta," in Ecrans d'Afrique , vol. 1, 1992.
Libiot, Eric, review in Première (Paris), June 1993.
D'Yvoire, Christophe, review in Studio (Paris), June 1993.
Ukadike, N. Frank, "In Guinea-Bissau, Cinema Trickles Down: An Interview with Flora Gomes," in Research in African Literatures , vol. 26, no. 3, 1995.
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The African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) that liberated Guinea-Bissau was more successful than any other guerrilla movement in Africa. In Those Whom Death Refused Flora Gomes had contrasted guerrilla warfare and nonchalant bureaucrats. Four years later he created a beautiful film that reminds us of the sacrifices made during the war but focuses on the present in Bissau. The Blue Eyes of Yonta shows that the socialist transformation promised at independence failed to materialize and that the shift to economic liberalization in the late 1980s created new hardships. The film graphically conveys the run-down poverty of Bissau, the nation's capital: it may not look it, but all the action but one short scene takes place in the city. The contrast with an extravagant wedding reception at the local Sheraton Hotel illustrates the deep inequality that characterizes Guinea-Bissau less than a generation after independence was achieved at the cost of great sacrifices.
The Blue Eyes of Yonta takes a critical look at the infatuation with things Western. Zé copies his letter to Yonta out of a European brochure of love letters meant to be addressed to beauties with blue eyes, to be written while the snow falls. The poet wallows in his longing for the Swedish girl with the blue eyes. And a war hero returns with presents from Portugal that follow European fashion and taste rather than African needs. At the same time we see a comfortable amalgamation of tradition and Western import. We hear a few references to God, but we also see tradition observed with a libation of wine at a wedding ceremony that strikingly combines traditional marriage transactions between the spouses's families and a civil marriage. The bride's white gown and her African hairdo beautifully demonstrate the felicitous integration of old and new.
The various characters present different responses to the state of Guinea-Bissau nearly two decades after independence. Yonta stands at the center of this comedy of misplaced affections. Yonta's frivolity reflects the city and its superficiality. She admires Vicente but does not share his dreams: "If your ideals have been spoiled, it's not my fault. We respect the past, but we can't live in it." In the end Yonta is rejected by both Vicente and Zé, but she remains secure in the affection of her parents and her younger brother, however much he may tease her.
Vicente is a war hero. But he has not been able to stick to the ideals he fought for. "[M]oney is the weapon now," he tells Amilcar, "The war is over." He drives a Volvo and brings the gifts from Europe, however inappropriate, that people will enjoy. When he is finally reunited with Nando, his comrade-in-arms, he observes resignedly: "In the jungle we thought it would be for everyone. But it's not. What can I do?" The fruits of independence have come to some, here in the capital, and Vicente asks Nando to join him to get his share. But Nando has been marked even more profoundly by the struggle. He wants no part of Bissau and returns to Catio, once at the center of the war for liberation. His quiet departure confronts Vicente with the failure of their struggle. As he talks to the sculpture he cradles and dances to circling vultures, we wonder whether he has gone out of his mind.
Zé is moonstruck by Yonta but comes to realize that they live in different worlds. Though her radiance bewitches him, he eventually rejects the conspicuous, Western-oriented consumption of Bissau she represents. He does not share the dream of the young who want to emigrate to Europe; he affirms that the place he came from—Bolama, the war-time capital, symbol of the struggle for independence—is as good as Bissau, and he is prepared to return there. If Yonta's glamor recalls the glittering promises that came with independence nearly two decades before, then his disappointment stands for all those whose aspirations have been frustrated.
Flora Gomes named his youngest protagonist for Amilcar Cabral, the distinguished guerrilla leader and intellectual. Young Amilcar is quick and witty, boisterous and ingenious, full of initiative, mischief, and energy. And he shows signs of following in the steps of his famous namesake. He is afraid of no one: his older sister, a truck driver, government authority. He leads the children in putting an evicted widow back into her house. If this rebellion against the callous disregard of people's needs suggests the prospect of a better future, Gomes does not tell us what it might look like: "I do not suggest alternatives. As a 'contester,' I am someone who, above all, makes observations and remarks on issues." But with Nando and Zé he has firmly established that the country at large rejects the compromises that mark the capital.
Gomes created a beautiful and funny film. We follow the entanglements of our protagonists, relish their grace, enjoy the music, and discover Bissau. Through most of the film we revel in the caring among the adults and the prospect of romance among the young. Then, in the last fifteen minutes, the idyll unravels: Nando confronts Vincente with the betrayal of the ideals for which they fought, Vicente denounces Yonta and the consumer culture she represents, and Zé rejects Yonta in turn. Only at the very end do the children reassure us that all is not lost.
The actors Gomes chose and trained are key to the success of his film. Bia Gomes, who appears in the role of Yonta's mother Belante, had played a lead role in Those Whom Death Refused , but most of the actors in The Blue Eyes of Yonta were amateurs. Soon after he had completed Those Whom Death Refused , Gomes set out to search for actors amongst his friends, in the women associations, at the exit of schools, in poor neighborhoods, and also in some government ministries. He then spent nine months with the actors in regular work sessions. In the film they use the local Portuguese creole they are comfortable with. Gomes complimented the beauty of his actors by using soft colors to good advantage.