A dreamlike movie with a modern-day nightmare, Air Conditioner, written and directed by Fradique, begins with a radio news broadcast that alerts the public of a spate of air conditioners falling out of buildings and killing people throughout Luanda, the Angolan capital.
The film is from the perspective of Matosedo, a security guard and a dreamer, who interacts with Zénzinha, a housemaid, who doesn’t have a lot of time. She has to push things forward. They are trying to get their boss’s broken air conditioner fixed and come into contact with Mr Mino, who’s stuck in the past, and thinks the past will solve everything.
“Those three characters describe for me how we are, the citizens of Luanda, and I think bringing them together provokes some sort of change with each other,” says Fradique, the Angolan writer-director. Images of dreams and death swirl around them—as well as falling air conditioners.
“That’s what I wanted to bring with the piece—not only talking about dreams and death, but how this affects different people,” he says, adding, “there’s this weird spirit that everything one day is going to change, something is going to get better, and I think this creates some sort of tension as well for us.”
Shot in his hometown, Luanda, he sets most of the scenes in typical high-rise residential buildings with dark hallways—similar to the apartment block he grew up in, as well as composer Aline Frasão, and Ery Claver, director of photography. This is crucial to one part of the film where Matosedo looks at others in the back of the building, but doesn’t speak. Instead, what they are thinking is spelled out on the screen in orange subtitles.
“In the back part of the building, there’s so much noise, with the generators with the water pumps, and these people, when they’re speaking, you cannot hear,” says Fradique.
They typically stand there and stare at each other, because the sound is deafening, and they understand what they have to do, he says.
“That creates a strange but also interesting vibe, because it’s what Matasedo thinks what people are saying or what he’s saying to them, but also you get interesting and funny information about what’s going on,” he adds.
The narrative of the killer falling air conditioners is repeated on the radio throughout the movie, with various radio roundtables discussing possible solutions, or even conspiracy theories, including that it’s a Chinese plot.
“Politics and government decisions are something that’s very far from us, but also very close. When you hear about some government decision, it’s like it’s done already, and you hear it on the radio,” says Fradique.
The whole Chinese conspiracy stems from Chinese infrastructure that is present not only in Angola, but throughout Africa, but he says the point was not to place blame, but bring it into perspective. The script was written before the Coivd-19 pandemic and the fake news controversies that now are taking over discussions, he adds.
“We’re feeling that kind of news in conversation and bring it to the film and not have people talk about what’s going on, but hearing what’s going on,” says Fradique, maintaining that the internet is not present in Luandan daily lives.
“The radio, even more than the TV is where people get their news, get their information. So for me, it was like, we have to have a radio, and we have to have news, or fake news, coming through the radio,” he says.
A soundtrack to remember
The movie doesn’t follow a classical narrative structure, which makes sense when you understand Fradique’s style of creating a film.
“Music for me is very important in films. I don’t like films that just focus on one thing, just the actors or the dialogue or the narrative,” he says.
He brought popular Angolan singer-songwriter-composer Aline Frasão on board early in the writing process, so that she was involved in the discussions and got to know the characters early on.
“When we shot the film, we already knew the tone of the music. We even shot some of the scenes playing the music, with the same kind of songs and rhythm, so the characters knew what was going on,” says Fradique, describing the collaborative process.
Every track was composed for the film by Frasão, with the exception of some rap, written and performed by Sacerdote.
“Sometimes, you try to adapt the music to the scene, and in this film, we even changed some of the scenes to adapt to the music. That’s how important for me the music was-- it’s not just an add-on,” he says.
While Matasedo and Zénzinha are present throughout the film, the city of Luanda and accompanying music have their own place as characters.
The gorgeous soundtrack adds to the tension as well as the dreamlike quality of the film, adding yet another dimension to the narrative. Even the opening credits are not an afterthought—the still photography by Cafuxi begins your journey into Fradique’s dreamy Luanda.