Na cidade vazia (Hollow City) (2004)




Director:  Maria Jono Ganga.

Starring:  Jono Roldan (N'dala), Domingos Fernandes Fonseca (ZP), Jlia Botelho (Rosita), Ana Bustorff (Religiosa), Ral Rosrio (Joka), Custodio Francisco (Pescador), Carlno Machado (Nandno), Pulquria Bastos (Professora), Edson K. de Almeida (Nosa Luta), Lisandra Pita (Socorrista).

a child escaping the civil war finds himself in trouble in the bitter political situation in Angola after the war


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Luanda, Angola, 1991.  Soldiers, a nun and school children are all on a plane together.  The plane lands and everyone gets out.  But one boy, named N'dalla, hides among the cargo carriers  to avoid going with the nun and the school children.  The nun discovers that N'dalla is missing after she does a head count of the children.  She tries to find the missing boy, but has no luck.  In Luanda a boy named Ze practices to play the part of the young boy hero N'gunga in a school play.  N'dala wanders through the city streets.  He pushes along a toy he made himself.  At night he sits on a bench.  A truck pulls up and N'dala runs off.  Soldiers jump off the back of the truck and begin to patrol the city streets. 

N'dala walks over to the ocean.  There he finds a rough-hewn shack on the beach.  He sleeps there overnight.  In the morning an old man finds the boy in his shack.  He greets N'dala when he finally wakes up from his sleep.  N'dala tells the man that he is just eleven years old and that men came to kill the people of his small village of Bie.  The soldiers also burned the village houses.  N'dala's goal is to get back to his home village. 

The nun has the local radio station broadcast an appeal to find N'dala.  She is afraid for the child from the bush because of the dangers inherent in a big city.  The run-away boy meets Ze, who things that he is the one who had been stealing laundry from his godmother.  (The term godmother refers to women who take in orphaned children who work for them in exchange for room and board.)  But soon Ze befriends N'dala.  At night Ze takes him to see a film at the Miramax.  They join in with a group of kids who sneak into the theatre.  N'dala falls asleep during the movie and gets teased for it by the other children. 

N'dala wants to continue on his journey back to his home town, but Ze warns him of the dangers.  After twelve midnight, he can be detained and either forced to go into the army or put into jail.  N'dala sleeps on the open terrace. 

Ze introduces N'dala to cousin Joka.  He takes the kids for a ride in his car to see his cousin Rosita, but she is not home.  Joka drops off the boys at godmother's house.  N'dala tells Ze that the nun told him that he would be able to see his parents in the sky back home in his native village.   

Joka heads over to the club to see Rosita.  Joka wants to put more "stuff" in her home.  He finds her and tells her, but she objects that she will have trouble with the police because of this material. 

The next morning the boys go to Rosita's home.  Again she is not in.  Ze finds the key and they enter the house.  At night Rosita mixes with the whores near her home.  Ze asks her if N'dala could stay with her.  She does not like the idea.  But Ze waits until she is drunk and then asks her again.  She sort of consents and N'dala starts staying at her place. Ze has N'dala look into the room where one of the whores is having sex with a client.

Ze's godmother forces him to stay home more nights and N'dala misses him.  One night N'dala takes a walk down to the beach to see the old fisherman at his shack.  While he is away, Ze comes to see him at Rosita's place but has no luck since N'dala is down at the beach. 

N'dala makes some money by selling cigarettes.  A gang of kids threaten him and tell him:  "This place is ours."  N'dala decides to make money an easier way. He makes some more toys and then sells them to a man who earlier showed some interest in a toy of his.  N'dala tells the old fisherman that he wants to stay with him in his shack.  The nun recognizes one of N'dala's self-made toys and finds out where the boy is staying.  She asks the old fisherman and he tells her to come back the next morning. 

But next morning may be too late.  Joka recruits N'dala into crime.  N'dala is given the job of sneaking into a home, finding the keys in a hall drawer and letting Joka into the home.  While the man and boy are robbing the place, the owner receives a phone call.  The owner answers the phone in the hall.  Joka tries to knock him out with a blow to the head with the butt of his pistol, but the man foils this attempt.  Joka tells N'dala to pick up the pistol and shoot the man.  N'dala does as he is told and shoots the man in the side.  The shooter goes outside, but then comes back into the home.  The home owner awakens, grabs the pistol from the floor and shoots N'dala twice, killing him. 

Pretty good movie.  It's an old technique used in such movies as Los Olvidados (The Forgotten) and the City of God but an effective one.  The movie follows the fortunes of an orphaned war refugee child in the big city of Luanda.  Does this child of the bush have any chance at all of survival in the cruel city?  The feeling (knowing the technique) is that the ending will not be a good one.  So there is no real surprise here. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:

In the Special Features sections, there is some very helpful information about the movie.  There is a contrast between the days of the Angolan revolution and the following turmoil of the 1980s.  The movie represents the loss of a dream in Angola.  The two children, the story hero N'gunga and the orphaned war refugee N'dala, are representative of the two time periods.  The first period was one of great expectations, while the other was of ruthless reality.  In the early 90s N'dala is dragged into a world with no future, run only by decadence and the struggle for survival. 

The Special Features notes that Angola is perhaps one of the last countries in the world where a film industry is waiting to come to life.  The 1980s and 1990s saw the birth of African cinema, mostly coming from the western part of the continent. 

The director notes that Angola still carries the after-effects of war. 


Angola is surrounded by Namibia to the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, and Zambia to the east.  On the west coast is the Atlantic Ocean.

1671  --  the last great Portuguese expansion was by Pungo Andongo of what became Angola.  Portugal had a presence in Angola for nearly five hundred years.

1951  --  the colony was made an overseas province called Portuguese West Africa.

Portugal's government of Angola was overthrown by a socialist-inspired military coup.

1975 (January)  --  Angola negotiated for independence for November of the same year.

A civil war broke out between the different groups represented by MPLA (People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola), UNITA and FNLA.

1975  --  Angola gets its independence.  The nation came under one-party rule by the MPLA. 

White South Africa backed the conservative forces in Angola.  Zaire supported the FNLA guerrillas and then UNITA. And the Soviet Union provided military aid to MPLA.  Cuba provided large numbers of troops in support of the MPLA. 

1975 (October)  --  the MPLA and Cuban forces took control of Luanda.

1975 (November)  --  independence formally declared with the MPLA as the de facto government.  Agostinho Neto was the first president.

1976  --  Cuban troops defeated the FNLA.  The United States joined South Africa to support UNITA.  The controversy over U.S. covert assistance to paramilitary forces in Angola led to legislative bans on such action.

1979  --  Jose Eduardo dos Santos become the leader of the country.

1991  --  introduction of a multi-party system.  But the MPLA remains in power, while the fight between MPL and UNITA raged on.

1992  --  claims of election fraud leads to civil war again.  The final runoff election never happened.

1994  --  peace accord between the government and UNITA. 

1997  --  installation of a national unity government.

1998  --  serious fighting begins again. Hundreds of thousands became homeless.

Power remained in the hands of the MPLA and President Dos Santos.

2002 (February 22)  --  the leader of UNITA Jonas Savimbi was killed in combat with government troops.  UNITA gave up and became the major opposition party.   President dos Santos still refuses to support regular democratic processes.


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