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.