Independent cinema allows us to be presented with characters who are typically underrepresented on the big screen. With “Stranded in Canton”, writer/director Mans Mansson gives us an interesting character study in Lebrun (Isibango Iko Lebrun), a Congolese farmer whose dreams for a better life both propel him forward and blind him simultaneously.
Lebrun is a wanna be entrepreneur who believes every excuse that comes out of his mouth and hopes you will too. In fact, he’s counting on it. His most recent endeavor finds him stranded in China after ordering a large amount of t-shirts for the election back home in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Unfortunately, he receives them after the election has passed and with boxes full of shirts that say vote for a president who can not run for office again, Lebrun has to figure out a plan B.
Lebrun doesn’t have much time to figure things out. Wassim (Wassim Hasbini), an overweight storage space owner who rides a moped to travel a few yards away, wants the money he’s owed for holding the t-shirts in storage. The Chinese want the money for making the t-shirts, and Lebrun makes calls to an elder back home who he’s seemed to promise a watch and an engine at least. As the movie continues it becomes more apparent that Lebrun doesn’t really have a plan, and may not have had one when he ordered his shirts, outside of selling them for a profit.
Sylvie (Sylvie N’Dya) is a fellow African living in China, and the one person who takes the time to listen to Lebrun and give him advice. She has her own shop and the wisdom that comes along with it. Yet when she tells Lebrun the truth about his shirts (possible failure), he continues to push forward off of his half-baked idea to make money with an eerie sense of calm and a desire to prove his worth as a businessman.
Mansson has complete control of the direction of the film. He uses pacing and extreme close ups as tools, forcing us to focus on what he wants. In a film in which so many different languages are spoken, he understands that sometimes the eyes convey what the lips are saying. While the film is subtitled, its visuals speak volumes. He let’s moments within the film play out to the point of exhaustion in a way that feels more like a documentary than a fictional narrative.
While we’re left with a real look at what an unskilled businessman looks like, the film spends too much time in the same position. There are not many new developments in plot, nor a major conflict. Everyone wants their money, but there’s not a real threat to Lebrun to give it to them. While the film does raise questions of politics and what success is, it struggles to bring it all together. Like Lebrun, “Stranded in Canton” is a great idea running off fumes rather than cinematic fuel.
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