A Film Africa review of Stranded in Canton

The film 'Stranded in Canton' - part of the 2015 Film Africa festival - is a simple and yet complex story that explores the blurred lines between one man’s hopes, and dreams and stone-cold reality.

Lebrun Iko Isibangi is stranded in Canton photographed
from Film Africa programme
Congolese Mr Lebrun (Lebrun Iko Isibangi) is stuck in Canton, Guangzhou, China with election T-shirts urging Congolese citizens to vote for presidential candidate Joseph Kabila.

But the ballot was months ago. His T-shirts are stuck in a warehouse and the opposition was voted into power instead.

Now Lebrun is stuck with T-shirts no one in the Democratic Republic of Congo would want to buy, no alternative market and no money. What does he do?

Not his fault. The T-shirts that should've taken a month to make have been delayed for more than six. But as Lebrun’s friend Sylvie (Nana Nya Sylvie) tells him, that's what happens when you do business with the Chinese.....

This film is so relevant – tapping into the burgeoning African-Asian trade route, and is so unbelievably funny despite the undeniable pathos. Director Mans Mansson cleverly turns the mundane act of Lebrun’s ritualistic daily routine of trying to fix his problem into an adventure.

How come Lebrun always wears the same polo shirt and black trousers and why do they look so clean? How can a man with so much stress and in need of $5,000, to pay for the containers of T-shirts stuck in Mr Wassim Hasbini's warehouse, be so chilled out? If he's not singing karaoke with his Chinese friend Frank No, he's dancing with fellow French-speaker Sylvie, or can be found exercising on some strange contraption you'd only find in playgrounds. Sweating profusely – I might add....there’s a lot of sweating in this film.

This chain-smoking dude believes he's a businessman, even though in Kinshasa he's a pig and poultry farmer with fish farming skills.

But as Sylvie works out, it seems delusional Lebrun may have been duped by unscrupulous middlemen into thinking he could make this venture work. And this conviction travels all the way to Kinshasa where he assures friends and family that all is well during a long-distance phone call.

As is common among some of us Africans, Lebrun promises all sorts of financial assistance to his family when in fact, he has to wash his only outfit each night and feeds on junk or hand-outs from friends.

But that's why I adore this film. It doesn't shy away from the reality of life for so many migrants. We watch the burgeoning community eeking out a living in the chocolate city Guangzhou – called so because of its growing African population.

We have the uncomfortable close focus shots of Lebrun’s lips, awkward scenes where it looks like he may try it on with Sylvie, and a particularly unpleasant but not shocking one where he's using a blade to cut his calcified toenails!!!!!

Lebrun made me laugh, smile and marvel despite his dire situation. Even with Hasbini breathing down his neck for his money, the two guys could still play board games and be genuinely convivial to each other.

And when Lebrun finally comes up with a solution to his T-shirt problem, it is hare-brained and you wonder if he has truly lost the plot.

The film is a journey of self-realisation which Lebrun finally arrives at. FINALLY!

And as abruptly as the film starts, we watch as Lebrun drives off into the distance, hopefully with designs on returning home. 

Film Africa 2015 ends on 8 November so there is still time to squeeze in a film or two.
By Kirsty Osei-Bempong

For more blogs on slavery and its legacies, check
Belle - a new kind of English rose  
Gold Coast: a lucid look into Denmark's colonial past

Dakan: the ultimate love story
Review of N: The Madness of Reason - a Film Africa London Premiere 

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