With its serious tone, the film artfully portrays how the wounds inflicted in the past can influence future relationships. Nganù’s journey reflects the enduring impact of childhood trauma, mirroring strained relationships with family and peers.
By Joseph Jonathan
It comes as no surprise when actors delve into filmmaking at some point in their careers, and the same can be said for Cameroonian actor and producer, Kang Quintus, who makes his directorial debut with Nganù, the latest Netflix offering. This comes on the back of the 2020 Quintus’ led and produced The Fisherman’s Diary, which became the first Cameroonian film to be acquired by Netflix.
Nganù is based on a true story; one which explores trauma, domestic violence, forgiveness, regret and redemption. The film follows the life of its titular character – Nganù (Kang Quintus), a violent and emotionally unstable man who abuses his wife Meukeuna (Azah Melvine) and son Kum (Musing Daniel/Ayuk Gareth) due to the trauma he suffered in his childhood. In the opening scene, we are introduced to the young Nganu through a flashback. He watches helplessly as his abusive father (Alenne Menget) beats his mother (Muriel Blanche). This flashback haunts Nganù throughout the film and forms the basis of his internal conflict in adulthood, and troubled relationships with others. He is advised by villagers to join the army to channel his rage but he soon finds out that his redemption comes a little too late.
The film, also written by Kang Quintus, features a slow-paced plot that moves confidently as the story thickens from the beginning to the end. Enough time is given to establish Nganù and his relationship with the rest of the characters. There is also a slow but steady growth in the character development; the build-up from Nganù’s childhood to his redemption comes full circle. With its serious tone, the film artfully portrays how the wounds inflicted in the past can influence future relationships. Nganu’s journey reflects the enduring impact of childhood trauma, mirroring strained relationships with family and peers. The film delves into the complex echoes of his past, emphasising the lasting effects that shape his present interactions.
As a universal language, pain can be understood by everyone, and although the film is presented in Kamtok, a Cameroonian pidgin English, French, and standard English, the message of pain resonates with audiences across linguistic backgrounds.
Despite the seriousness of the film, there are a few fun and lighthearted moments, such as the draft-playing men and their jokes, but most notably Nganù’s military training. Coincidentally, this is where he begins his journey to redemption through an unlikely friendship with Akwah (Hakeem Kae-Kazim), whom he had fought previously. Through this friendship, Nganu appreciates and learns the importance of a loving family.
The plot is further strengthened by a decent acting performance. Quintus delivers a compelling portrayal of Nganu as a protagonist and anti-hero. His commendable acting skills bring out the nuances of Nganù’s complex and conflicted personality with intensity, evoking empathy for his pain and anger, while also provoking disdain for his cruelty and violence. Quintus skillfully navigates the transformation and redemption arc, infusing subtlety and sincerity, and prompting viewers to rally behind the character’s journey towards salvation and healing. Musing Daniel embodies the character of young Kum with such ease that was a beauty to watch. Ayuk Gareth who plays the older Kum, gives a good account of himself as well, and the other supporting characters deliver in their own way, either by generating further complications or providing humour.
But all these said, there are certain aspect of the film that leaves little to be enjoyed. For one, the film could have benefited from better editing and a shorter runtime, as some scenes felt unnecessary or repetitive. It seemed as though the elders had no other job aside from draft-playing and gambling. It was almost a drag seeing Nganù force young Kum on errands to buy him weed every time. It is also worth noting that some of the assault scenes might be triggering or uncomfortable for certain persons. The visual effects and make-up were rather unrealistic and begging for a professional touch.
The storytelling occasionally appears fragmented, with certain scenes lacking the desired depth and emotional impact. For instance, we are made to believe that Akwah has a loving relationship with his family, but the scene where he talks to them via video call doesn’t exactly give that impression. The animated laughter and drab dialogue add to the blandness of their exchange. This disjointedness can be traced back to the film’s ambitious scope, where it endeavours to intertwine numerous storylines and character arcs. While commendable in its aspirations, this ambition sometimes hinders the emotional resonance of specific scenes.
Nganù audaciously delves into complex topical issues, and although the film struggles with a few nagging problems, it positively reflects the cyclical nature of trauma and the possibility of redemption. Quintus’ latest feature is a testament to the growth of the Cameroonian film industry which is in the process of reinventing itself after the 2019 relaunch of the Artistic and Cultural Season, an occasion to reorganise the Cameroonian film industry to better meet the needs of local filmmakers through a federated structure meant to facilitate cohesion, to ease dissemination of information, resources, capacity building and structuring of the industry.
(Nganù is currently streaming on Netflix)
Joseph Jonathan is a historian who seeks to understand how film shapes our cultural identity as a people. He believes that history is more about the future than the past. When he’s not writing about film, you can catch him listening to music or discussing politics. He tweets @JosieJp3