Ben & Ara (Nngest Likke, 2017)
Set in the United States, Ben & Ara is about the relationship between two philosophy doctoral candidates at an unnamed university, one an agnostic (Joseph Baird) and the other a devout Muslim (Constance Ejuma).
Children of the Mountain (Priscilla Anany, 2016)
I then watched Children of the Mountain, which turned out to be a completely different experience.
After their child is born with a cleft lip, cerebral palsy and Downs Syndrome, Essuman's boyfriend abandons her. While she has the help of her good friend Asantewaa, she is ostracised by her community who see the child as a sign of her immorality. Desperate to find a cure, Essuman goes on a journey to save the child -- or rid herself of it.
Children of the Mountain is an extremely empathetic picture about an extremely sensitive question: is Nuku a benefit or burden for Essuman? The film is ultimately resolves this conflict to the affirmative, but the journey getting there is harrowing. I appreciated the arc of Essuman's character, and how the filmmakers are unafraid to show her in a negative light: at various points in the narrative, she abandons Nuku. While her choices can be awful, the filmmakers pay attention to laying out the various forces (personal, social, cultural and religious) that Essuman constantly has to confront. it's rare to see a character as fallible as Essuman in a movie and her journey toward reconciling with her child is always engrossing.
Train of Salt and Sugar (Licinio Azevado, 2016)
Set in Mozambique during the 1977-1992 civil war, the movie concerns the occupants of a rickety old train travelling through rebel-held territory across the border into neighbouring Malawi, where they trade salt for sugar, a precious commodity.
A solid, unpretentious genre picture, The Train of Salt and Sugar manages to be about something without descending into didactic-ism. That it does so while juggling some seriously dark drama and some lashings of humour is a testament to great filmmaking and a terrific ensemble cast. Check it out.