Arriving a decade after the battle-themed “Waltz With Bashir” opened eyes to the possibilities of mixing animation and nonfiction, the vividly realized Spanish/Polish/German/Belgian co-production “Another Day of Life” from directors Raúl de la Fuente, a Spanish documentarian, and Polish animator Damian Nenow takes a different look at war and memory, centered on the moment of Angola’s break from Portuguese colonialism and what would become a decades-long civil war.
The filmmakers’ source material is storied Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski’s same-named memoir of his time in Angola in 1975 covering the flight, fight and fear that attended so momentous yet tension-filled a liberation. He memorably described the situation using the Portuguese word confusão — what he terms “a state of absolute disorientation” — and it’s his famously florid, surreal descriptions that are rendered in apocalyptic sequences of hallucinatory bloom by the animators. But they’re also described for us in modern-day filmed segments by a few of the surviving participants themselves, interviewed some 40 years after the country erupted over warring independence-minded factions, as well as made real for us through snippets of archival footage.
The untetheredness starts right away with images of floating Telex letter keys as narration introduces us to the tireless Kapuscinski (voiced by Kerry Shale), newly dispatched to the capital city of Luanda. By that point a well-traveled chronicler of world unrest with a bias toward the struggles of the oppressed, Kapuscinski’s excitement at covering Angola’s messy liberation — a situation he favors even as it manifests as citywide anarchy — is matched only by cynical worry at the escalating, bloody internal power struggle. (The hard-boiled machismo in Shale’s gravelly narration is also pretty grating at first.)
With the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. choosing sides, Kapuscinski senses another proxy Cold War brewing. Hearing of a last stand situation at Angola’s southern border between a cadre of communist-aligned guerrillas and a lying-in-wait invasion from CIA-funded South African troops, he’s eager to make the dangerous trek to get the story. The prize would be an interview with the guerrillas’ leader, a Che Guevara-meets-Col. Kurtz type named Commandante Farrusco (Youssef Kerkour), a Portuguese paratrooper who switched sides.
Along the way, Kapuscinski and reporter colleague Artur (Daniel Flynn) witness both the conflict’s horror and hope. At one point their way is clogged with slaughtered Angolans, which triggers another of the film’s grimly stylized tableaux of hellish obliteration. They also come under fire from armed factionalists who, according to Artur, only need to hear one wrong word to start shooting. But their paths also cross with sharp-eyed, charismatic 19-year-old guerrilla named Carlotta (Lillie Flynn), who fights so that one day Angola’s children can stop living in abject terror and be free, peaceful students instead.
As hybrids go, “Another Day of Life” is a pungent crossbreed of the detailed and trippy, the smash-cuts to archival shots or present-day cinematography frequently as alarming as when the moodily shaded, motion-capture CG animation segues into those temporally fluid and disintegrative stretches in which weapons hover, landscapes mutate and bodies break apart. The artfully kaleidoscopic nightmare of a collapsed state has rarely been so imaginatively portrayed. The unintentionally awkward moments come from a few of the more overwrought voice-over performances, in conjunction with the often-pinched rendering of human faces.
It’s also unfortunate that a film ostensibly about the plight of Angolans is so dominated by figures of European descent. That uneven coloring is leavened by a fascinating moral dilemma at the end for a changed Kapuscinski, who’s presented with information that could shorten the war but kill the liberation, forcing a choice between his jettisoned impartiality and his reporter’s instinct. It makes “Another Day of Life” not just another war-is-hell story, but a powerfully thorny war-journalism-is-hell tale too.
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 13, Laemmle Glendale