Sound in the Machine – Neptune Frost (2022)

“One who swallows a whole coconut trusts his anus.”

That proverb just scratches the tonal surface of this African-techno-musical. Neptune Frost thrives on the kinetic energy of its visuals and its music, but it’s made whole on the strength of its anti-establishment narrative.

A group of workers from the labor class comes together under the shared dream of an intersex hacker and a coltan miner to combat the authoritarian government and the exploitation of Africa by the West.  It gets weirder so I don’t even know that’s an entirely accurate description, but at least it’s a starting point. 

Saul Williams wrote and co-directed this film, with Anisia Uzeyman, as an extension of his 2016 album “MartyrLoserKing” which serves as the tonal backbone of the film. It is bursting with undeniable energy and, despite having budget limitations, the creativity seems limitless. 

Co-director Anisia Uzeyman also served as cinematographer and shot this film like a cross between a dream and a documentary. At least that’s how it felt to me in the audience. Cedric Mizero was elbow-deep in the visual design for this film, designing the costumes, working with Uzeyman on art direction, and working on the production design with Antoine Nshimiyimana. Beyond the eye-popping neon and fluorescent color profile, the tech-fashion and village design are unlike anything you have ever seen. Whether it’s Matalusa’s keyboard jacket or the accent jewelry made from colored wire, the visual signature of this film is wholly unique. 

Cheryl Isheja (left) and Bertrand Nintereste (Matalusa)

The two main characters are Neptune, played first by Elvis Ngabo and then by Cheryl Isheja, and the aforementioned Matalusa, played by Bertrand Nintereste. It is an interesting pairing as the film doesn’t hinge on their romance. They are more parallels than romantic partners, first meeting in a dream and following that dream to a community where their union sparks a technological revolution. Both characters have their moments in the film and they are acted with passion and intent, but they are unconventional lead roles because the idea is bigger than just the two of them. The story doesn’t feel like it’s about them as much as they are the catalysts for the story. 

These kinds of visuals punctuate the film

I knew this was going to be a weird one going in and it certainly delivered but, beyond the guerilla filmmaking, there’s a lot of substance to its criticisms.

Recommendation: See it for the ingenuity of its filmmaking and the impact of its sonic voice.