Streaming Review

Air Conditioner review – fascinating but distant Angolan magical-realist fable

The air conditioners of Luanda seem to develop a life of their own in a sweltering shaggy dog story that never fully reveals its hand

Despite having one of the most hilariously drab and direct titles of any film in recent memory, Air Conditioner is not the social-realist/kitchen sink drama you might imagine when you first hear its name. Instead, this slow wander through the streets of Angola’s capital Luanda occupies a magical realist space, every now and then dipping a toe into Afrofuturism, creating a hypnotic but distancing experience that’s over almost as soon as it begins.

Delivering on its title’s promise, this debut offering from director Fradique centres on a strange blight afflicting the air conditioners of Luanda. Without warning, the units are falling out of buildings, constantly crashing onto the streets below while political parties on the radio argue over whether or not they should have been installed in Angola in the first place. The cause of the problem remains a mystery – one character suggests they’re behaving like overripe fruit on the high-rise buildings that act as Luanda’s trees, but it just as readily resembles a ritual mass suicide from the units themselves.

We never receive an answer to these questions, leaving us just as in the dark as protagonist Matacedo (Jose Kiteculo), a security guard charged with fixing his boss’s air conditioner. His quest is a compelling one, with long, winding takes immersing you in the back alleys of the city while a bouncy yet noirish jazz score keeps you on your toes. Surreal touches, like Matacedo’s telepathic connection with the other men of Luanda, are welcomely unburdened by any need to explain themselves, though the cumulative effects of Fradique’s stylistic tics is to turn Air Conditioner into more of an intellectual experience than a particularly moving one.

References are made to environmentalism, corruption in Angola, and the region’s still-open colonial wounds, but at a mere 70 minutes, Air Conditioner doesn’t leave itself enough time to really dig deep into these topics. Instead, we’re left with a fascinating but alienating story that goes entirely its own way, for better and worse, without feeling the need to reveal any of its cards to the audience.

Air Conditioner is now streaming on MUBI.

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