Climate change, colonialism, and classism
Out of the 500+ films submitted for the International Film Festival of Ottawa (IFFO), Air Conditioner, directed by Fradique (Mário Bastos), was one of the lucky few chosen for this year’s presentation. Originally produced in 2020 in Luanda, Angola, the Portuguese-language film, had its world premiere at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam (IFFR) in the Netherlands.
Depicted as a low science fiction film with elements of magical realism, Air Conditioner is set in Angola amidst the excruciatingly hot and humid summer season. Residents notice a strange phenomenon occurring throughout the city of Luanda — air conditioners have been unexpectedly falling out of high-story building windows.
This sets the scene for our protagonist, Matacedo, who ventures out into the streets intending to retrieve one of the abandoned air conditioners for his boss. While the premise may appear mundane on the outside, Matacedo’s journey is far from the constraints of normalcy.
Accompanying Matacedo on his quest for a functioning air conditioner is a humble housemaid, Zezinha. They encounter an exciting and diverse cast of characters, travel through some mysterious parts of town, and dodge air conditioners falling from the sky.
Our leading man and lady José Kiteculo and Filomena Manuel, both newcomers to the acting world, do an excellent job of portraying the confusion, determination, and sense of urgency one might associate with an epidemic of heavy machinery plummeting to the streets. With excellent cinematography and great integration of music and sound effects, this film is a truly immersive experience.
What is most fascinating about the film is the underlying themes of colonial legacy, civil war, classism, poverty, and global warming. It becomes apparent midway into the film that there is more beneath the surface. Fradique did not want us to simply sit back and enjoy a mysterious adventure through the streets of Angola but rather to recognize the social commentary on how something as simple as malfunctioning air conditioners can exacerbate the differences between classes.
The falling air conditioners that working-class people are sent to retrieve for their affluent bosses are symbolic of the luxury that the upper-class experience at the expense of their workers. Heatwaves themselves do not single out the less fortunate with their sweltering wrath. Nevertheless, the slight discomfort that the wealthy members of society face upon losing their air conditioners is incomparable to the rising death tolls of the less fortunate inhabiting the streets below.
The subtlety of this message is what makes Air Conditioner such an incredible viewing experience — one where you find yourself thinking, “wait, what?” at the end. Air Conditioner is a revolutionary film that uses sci-fi elements to provide an accessible social commentary on the issues of climate change, colonialism, and classism present in contemporary society.
If you’re a fan of media that makes you think while pushing the boundaries of traditional film production, then Air Conditioner should be on your radar.