Film Festival Film #9: The Great Kilapy

The Great Kilapy is an Angolan film — a period piece with surprisingly good production values. It takes place in the final years of the Portuguese rule of Angola, and the costumes, locations and vehicles do a great job of transporting us to the mid-sixties. The film has a framing sequence that takes place in the present day where an older Portuguese man tells the story of “The Great Kilapy” to his children (“kilapy” is a Kimbundu word for “fraud” or “swindle”).

João Fraga is a mixed-race Angolan man living in Lisbon in 1965 at the start of the film. He has a suave demeanor and knows how to make women fall for him. He’s also good at financial legerdemain — some of his friends call him “Mr. Engineer” because he knows how to engineer a scheme or two. Lisbon is good to him: he enjoys the party life, and his primary lover is the daughter of a Minister who slips him a respectable stipend and keeps him attired in tailored suits. He really only has two big problems in his life. First, he’s not “a one-woman man” (and poly doesn’t seem to have been invented yet) which inevitably leads to broken hearts and angry break-ups. Second, a large number of his friends and former schoolmates have fallen in with the MPLA and the Security Police are confident that he’s also involved. For his part, João is sympathetic to the pro-independence MPLA but is too busy womanizing and funding his big-spending lifestyle to be politically active.

But he’s connected. And when his buddy, Dui, is conscripted and likely headed to the front-lines, João uses his connections to help Dui disappear to France. Sadly, this ends up being something that the secret police can use to deport his ass back to Angola. Initially he’s dissatisfied with the unwelcome change in his lifestyle, but soon his father — himself, a pro-independence civil servant — manages to get João a job in the treasury. “Imagine,” our narrator says, “putting a great engineer like João in the treasury.” With some creative accounting João is soon milking the treasury for a tidy sum. Occasionally, he slips some funds into the hands of some of his MPLA-connected friends, but mostly he’s back to his habit of fast cars and faster women.

Throughout all this, he’s dogged by the secret police — one particular inspector has followed him to Angola from Lisbon, convinced that he’s deeply involved in the growing insurgency. João is frequently pulled in for questioning, or searched when he takes his latest lady friend on holidays. The secret police are so certain that he’s a militant that they never seem to notice him living way beyond a civil servant’s means.

Of course, it all has to come to a head. One of João’s lovers is a white woman named Francesca, whose father finally takes it upon himself to shoot João (thus ending the threat that his daughter’s affair will produce black babies). But at the same moment, João’s boss at the Treasury has spilled the beans about the swindle. João is arrested and thrown in jail.

But it has a happy ending, because shortly after that, the Portuguese finally leave Angola. The new independent Angolan government elects to release all political prisoners from jail, and João has managed to spin his pilfering of the Portuguese government coffers as a revolutionary act, so he’s also freed.

It was a nice film. Very high production values, but a high-lariously long list of “funded by” credits at the beginning of the film.

Fellow Torontonian Robin Laws seems to feel that the film has too much hugging. Me, I think he’s a hugphobe.

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