This surprisingly heartfelt and thoughtful film draws the audience in through compelling methods.

Written and directed by Iván Herrera, you are never quite sure what to expect from his latest film Bantú Mama which although has all the makings of an intense drama through the way it is filmed. But turns out to be a surprisingly tender story of self-discovery, what being a family means and of course the similarities and differences between cultures.

The plot follows that of Emma, who ends up going on the run from the police following a job that goes unexpectedly wrong and ends up by taken in by two teens Shulo and T.I.N.A and their little brother Cuki. It is very much a story about identity and understanding as they all learn about each other’s cultures – in particular Shulo is suspicious of Emma and why she has ended up in the dangerous area of Santo Domingo. Yet as she becomes a surrogate mother to them all, Emma finds her life taking a direction she could never have expected.

From start to finish, Herrera’s film keeps you on the edge of your seat, preparing you for situations that never happen – which although sounds disappointing it in fact highlights the dangerous day-to-day life in Santo Domingo and the way in which the children (whose mother is no longer around and father is in prison) have had to adapt and survive, which makes for a striking contrast for the loneliness and seemingly isolated life that Emma had been living. The uncertainty of what is coming next and the attempt to move forward with life and the twist and turns of life is really at the centre of the story that unfolds.

It is a story that is simply told, not requiring a whole lot of dialogue to convey feeling or to drive the story forward. There is an artistic style about every shot that is used (in particular the way in which lighting is exquisitely used to draw the audience further into the world of Emma and her ‘adopted’ children), that leads to some wonderful images that really stick in the audience’s mind.

While initially it takes time for the film to really develop and flourish, with some early scenes in particular needing some tightening up, there is a quiet and thoughtfulness about it as a whole that makes it compelling to watch – enhanced further by the performances from the cast.

At the centre of it all, Clarisse Albrect as Emma delivers a beautifully simple but heartfelt performance as a character who is searching for something but not quite sure what until the very end. But she is equally matched by the performances from the younger members of the cast – with Scarlet Rayes really standing out as the intelligent and street savvy T.I.N.A – who would do anything to give her younger brother Cuki (an endearingly charming Euris Javiel) a chance of a better life. In turn Arturo Perez as Shulo offers great depth and maturity in his role that makes him as one to watch out for in the future.

Overall, Bantú Mama is a quietly compelling film to watch but could use some moments that are tightened up further to make it feel even more focused.

By Emma Clarendon

To book tickets to watch Bantú Mama as part of the BFI London Film Festival visit: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::permalink=bantumama

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐