Short of the Week

Kwa Heri Mandima

As a 10-year-old growing up in the small African village of Mandima, Robert-Jan Lacombe, the son of European parents, never thought he would have to say goodbye.

Kwa Heri Mandima (Goodbye Mandima) is an incredibly simple film—comprised primarily of a few static photographs– but its storytelling is sophisticated and gripping. Told in the rare second-person perspective, this, along with its interesting play with tense, inspires great empathy, placing you within the filmmaker’s autobiography as you live out the familiar—but no less upsetting—experience of being a child asked to leave behind everything and everyone you’ve ever known.

Born to European parents, Robert’s early memories are of Zaire, where he and his siblings were the only white children to be found. That seems not to have bothered him or the small village much, as he gives details of the dear friends he made and the times they had.

But, these details come later. As the film starts, we (Robert) are preparing to leave. A plane is waiting to be loaded, and the village has gathered to see you off. It is only as you see the faces that memories trigger and nostalgia for that which is not yet lost sets in.

It is fascinating that a documentary built through photography—a medium that is resolutely historical—lacking even the fantasy of immediacy that the moving image can give—would be be constructed in the present tense. It even leads to an interesting situation where, halfway through, when the narrator implies the difficulties “you” will have adapting to European culture, he slips into a future tense to describe feelings and difficulties he’d already experienced in his objective past. It’s a bit of a headtrip if you overthink it, but it is a calculated decision that, like the use of the second-person perspective, is designed to maximize your personal involvement in the story.

And Lacombe succeeds wildly in this. Spare, with very little sound design and no music, the film is emotionally powerful. Absent other adornment, his voice lures you into a trance, and you eat up the seemingly inconsequential details of the day, waiting for the devastating knockout punch you intrinsically know must be coming. A fabulous short nominated for a Cinema Eye Honors this year, Kwa Heri Mandima is one of those experiences that reinvigorates your faith in the short form.

Co-Founder of Short of the Week, Sondhi lives in Brooklyn working as a Curator for Vimeo. Follow his musings on online video, direct distribution and branded content: @jasondhi.
  • Matt Morris

    I don’t remember where I first saw this, but it’s an amazing film. Thanks for posting!

  • Cleber Rebuitti

    I have to admit got all emotional about this… I lived in Europe for a year and for the first time in my life (I’m Brazilian) I was exposed to a great variety of cultures. People were all so different from me! Yet one day, as I worked with people from all parts of the globe, I realized that we laughed at the same jokes and were made happy or sad by the same things… It’s sad that as we grow up we are taught only to see the differences.

  • Jason Sondhi

    That was beautiful Cleber, thanks for sharing.

  • Bernardo Nascimento

    Thank you Jason for bringing this back: I absolutely love this film. No hyperbole.
    @13d4bd4ec22bcfda30e5a2059ea15419:disqus Aspen! Think we watched it together. How you doing?

  • Bernardo Nascimento

    Thank you Jason for bringing this back: I absolutely love this film. No hyperbole.
    @13d4bd4ec22bcfda30e5a2059ea15419:disqus Aspen! Think we watched it together. How you doing?

  • De parte incerta

    This is the first time a film describes what I felt leaving Mozambique at the age of 10. The similarities are too many to allow for any critical judgment. Loved the stillness and simplicity, truly beautiful way of telling the story.

  • Paul Duvall

    Fantastic short. When he mentioned the many hours of film footage that had sat for years in his grandmother’s house, I thought that that would constitute the bulk of the documentary.

    It was a pleasant surprise that this was not that case and that the majority of the documentary would be simple photographs with Lacombe’s mesmirising narration over the top.

  • Justin Benn

    Very much enjoyed this for its honesty and authenticity. Relished the fact that it did not shy away from complexity or unresolved feelings. Wonderful work.

  • Alex

    the art of simplicity when comes to tell a story! absolutely great! Thanks for this film…

  • Kui

    Beautifully done! The simplicity, the emotion, it’s beautiful!

  • Ansa