Spectacular and thrumming with life, this richly layered road movie shows us Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia through the eyes of an eager gap-year backpacker. “I travel as I’ve always dreamed of doing in a nontouristic and sustainable manner,” he emails back home to Brazil. “Spending $2 or $3 a day and giving 80% of my daily budget to the locals who feed and shelter me.”
Brazilian director Fellipe Barbosa’s film recreates the journey of his friend Gabriel Buchmann who died on the slopes of Malawi’s Mount Mulanje in 2009. The film stars João Pedro Zappa as Gabriel and Caroline Abras as his girlfriend Cristina, but the African cast is made up almost entirely of people whom the open-hearted young Brasileiro befriended along the way. They play themselves – and deliver personal tributes in voiceover as each of them waves the film’s Gabriel off to his next new best friend.
The director is alive to his friend’s vanity and the ironies attendant on his “total immersion in the heart of Africa.” Required by a waitress at a beachside cafe to order a meal, Gabriel is outraged to be mistaken for a mere tourist.
But his appetite for the freedom and friendship of the road gives this film irresistible exuberance and heart. There’s mystery too: he’s so impatient to knock off the achievements he’s set himself, it’s as if he knows his time is limited. It’s that very impatience – a refusal to observe the basic rules of mountain safety – which brings his brief and brilliant life to an end and sets this wonderfully enlivening film in motion.