A smiling young woman in front of a serious looking man, both looking at something out of the framealr

Mortu Nega
(Those Whom Death Refused)

Flora Gomes in Conversation with Aboubakar Sanogo
Screening on Film
$15 Special Event Tickets
Directed by Flora Gomes.
With Tunu Eugenio Almada, Bia Gomes, Mamadu Uri Balde.
Guinea-Bissau, 1988, 35mm, color, 85 min.
Kriolu and Portuguese with English subtitles.
Print source: trigon-film

Gomes made his debut feature with an unusual and influential epic focused on the end and difficult aftermaths of the guerrilla war that brought independence to Guineau-Bissau after a half century of brutal colonial rule under the Portuguese. A stirring and thought-provoking meditation on revolution and its effects, Mortu Nega is divided into three distinct parts, each with a markedly different tone and rhythm. The film opens by thrusting the viewer en medias res into the battlefront through a vivid documentary-style evocation of guerrilla warfare that captures both the grim tedium of waiting as well as the brutal violence. Only gradually does a narrative emerge with the appearance of Bia Gomes, the remarkable actress who has starred in all of Gomes’ major works, here portraying Diminga, the devoted wife of a wounded soldier who joins the fight to be at his side. In the second part, Mortu Nega follows the struggle of Diminga to care for her husband and to navigate the emerging bureaucratic state with its clear but ambiguously inflected faction lines. The final part of the film breaks radically away, entering the realm of myth in a dance ritual performed for the living and the dead that becomes a coda of cautious optimism for the future. Giving equal emphasis to war as to what comes after, Gomes refuses to romanticize or simplify the complexities of its subject and instead takes a critical appraisal of his country’s independence. Mortu Nega pays moving tribute both to the brave revolutionary soldiers—men and women—who fought and died valiantly, while also offering a model for a critical mode of narrative cinema able to engage and even openly question the myths of nationhood. – HG

Mortu Nega introduction by Haden Guest and post-screening discussion with Flora Gomes and film scholar Aboubakar Sanogo. ©Harvard Film Archive

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