Vague Visages’ Our Lady of the Chinese Shop review contains minor spoilers. Ery Claver’s 2022 movie stars Cláudia Púcuta, David Caracol and Willi Ribeiro. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
A meditation on the temptations of leisure, Our Lady of the Chinese Shop announces a major filmmaking talent in Ery Claver. The Angolan writer-director excels first and foremost with his unique script, which is philosophically complex and tinged with dark romanticism. When a Chinese immigrant showcases a plastic religious doll of the Virgin Mary in Angola’s capital city of Luanda, the object influences the lives of numerous locals. Claver — who normally works as a cinematographer — uses practical sound effects, such as dripping rain, to underline a sense of moral decay. When paired with long takes, the score produces a slow cinema feel that may or may not resonate with anxious viewers.
Our Lady of the Chinese Shop is a helluva directorial debut. Claver leans lightly on familiar horror techniques: a throbbing score to foreshadow danger, soft focus framing and visuals of Mother Nature at her angriest. Storywise, Claver keeps it clean by observing three protagonists who navigate the city while looking after their best interests. Cláudia Púcuta stands out with her stoic performance as Domingas, a woman who holds a Viola Davis-like stare as she thinks about the death of a child. As the narrator, Meili Li speaks with a scathing and amused tone while communicating to viewers that “everyone is out of tune.” Evocative phrasing such as “like rushing ants” and “a red moon rush” lend the film a novelistic quality, almost like the narrator anticipates a reckoning for the focal community members, some of whom envision violence and revenge.
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The art of suggestion and familiarity elevates Our Lady of the Chinese Shop above standard slow cinema productions. The religious aspect will resonate with global viewers, some of whom may not realize they’re being pulled into the depths of hell. Furthermore, Claver’s haunting mise-en-scène might remind North American audiences of Jordan Peele flicks like Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), as Our Lady of the Chinese Shop bleeds in various tones. And the premise itself links the African film to The Big Door Prize, a fantastical Apple TV+ series about a machine that predicts the potential of individual human beings. Lastly, the presence of COVID-19 in Our Lady of the Chinese Shop adds another layer of depth and familiarity. Many Luanda locals wear masks, including Willi Ribeiro as Zoyo — a young man who can’t escape his crimes (or himself) while consuming popular media.
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Claver’s narrative structure and visual style ensures that viewers won’t throw up their hands in confusion by the end. Just when it seems like Our Lady of the Chinese Shop will follow a traditional three-act structure, a narrative wrinkle helps audiences better understand the main characters as the aforementioned “red moon” makes its way into the frame. “Here’s what’s happening,” Claver seems to say with his Angolan character study. Whether one embraces the dark romanticism of Our Lady of the Chinese Shop or looks away completely will depend on their patience and cultural conditioning.
Our Lady of the Chinese Shop screens at the New York African Film Festival on May 13 and May 15, 2023 at Film at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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Categories: 2020s, 2023 Film Reviews, Drama, Featured
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