Writer/director Blitz Bazawule’s first feature-length film feels exactly like someone telling you about a dream they had. Only you’re actually interested in it, and the nonsensical parts are beautiful and not just annoying. The Burial of Kojo is filmmaking as visual poetry, set to a wickedly magical score also composed by Bazawule. Before the Netflixing of America, this is the precise sort of movie that would have been resigned to a micro-release in a handful of major cities. Just a decade ago, legions of film lovers would have been deprived of the opportunity to see this humbly majestic masterpiece. Feel free to kvetch away about certain nefarious practices of streaming services; I got to see The Burial of Kojo, so it’s all worth it.
Set in Ghana, Bazawule’s film wields magical realism as a narrative weapon, piercing an ordinary family’s origin story until it bleeds fantasy. The Burial of Kojo is the story of a child named Esi (Cynthia Dankwa) as remembered and narrated by her adult self (Ama K. Abebrese). That story begins with the moment her parents, Kojo (Joseph Otsiman) and Ama (Mamley Djagmah), first meet. As lily-pads sparkle and illuminate, her folks quickly fall in love and bring Esi into the world. Because even the rosiest-colored glasses and the distance of years can’t warp somber reality, Esi admits her parents struggled financially and romantically.
Esi reveals that Kojo and his brother, Kwabena (Kobina Amissah-Sam) were suitors for the same bride. Kwabena won, although a tragedy on his wedding day turned everyone involved into losers. When he reinserts himself into the lives of Esi’s family, the clock begins counting down to a reckoning that all involved feel coming. Meanwhile, Esi has been entrusted by a blind shaman to protect a sacred bird from a menacing crow creature that lives in an upside-down world. Literal events unfold as told through the fable of memory that our minds make of real events.
Bazawule makes 80 minutes feel like a sprawling epic, proof that massive run times are not a prerequisite for storytelling majesty. In that short stretch, he touches upon consequences of widespread poverty, the tense relationship between Ghana and China, systemic police corruption and a little girl’s struggle to emotionally reconcile her role in her family’s darkest hours.
Bazawule and cinematographer Michael Fernandez relentlessly attack the senses, reversing cigarette smoke back into mouths and splashing electric neon colors into natural environments. This is all in an attempt to capture a feeling more than just construct a straightforward narrative. Even those predisposed to distrust surreal, artistic cinema will find the experience oddly comforting and inviting. Those who seek ingenuity and vibrant creativity will find a new champion. In an ideal world, someone very, very rich will see The Burial of Kojo and begin adding zeros on the end of a check made out to Bazawule that will allow him to pursue whatever dream he wishes to film next.
Can y’all tell I liked this one?
This review first appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Nebraska.