Based on the novel by Mia Couto, Sleepwalking Land showcases the bittersweet journey of an older man and a boy as they meander through the war-ravaged countryside of Mozambique. Initially, Muidinga and “Uncle” Tuahir are seeking the basics: food, shelter, and safety from traveling gangs. Tuahir had pretended to be Muidinga’s uncle when they were residing in the Xalala refugee camp. The boy was presumed dead until Tuahir noticed otherwise, and by claiming a familial bond, the man was able to take the boy under his wing. Now the two are seeking refuge from the refugee camp and are in a truly nomadic, transitory situation.
When Muidinga and Tuahir make a burned and looted bus into their temporary home, they find passengers’ belongings among the charred remains of the bodies. Muidinga finds and begins to read the diary of a young man named Kindzu to the illiterate Tuahir. This discovery transforms their day-to-day existence into a purpose-filled trip through the past and present, while helping them to develop a goal for the future.
The much-needed escape afforded by Kindzu’s stories reminds Muidinga and Tuahir that people will go to great lengths to find and create family despite the grips of a gruesome civil war. Along with the goat that Muidinga finds in the bushes, the pair decide to travel to the sea to find Kindzu’s love Farida, and complete the quest that Kindzu described in words but was unable to finish.
Along the way, Muidinga and Tuahir meet a variety of characters, both in reality and by way of Kindzu’s stories. All of these interactions help the two to create their own story, and to build their relationship to the point that Tuahir asks Muidinga to call him Father. At the beginning of the movie, Tuahir gruffly tells Muidinga that “In wartime, children are a burden.” His rough, realistic attitude is a testament to a life that has required him to harden himself to continual sadness. But the two clearly bring each other joy as well, as is apparent when Tuahir tells Muidinga to eat a piece of foraged fruit with care: “Eat slowly, so you can taste every color.” The old man gradually divulges information about Muidinga’s parents and past as their journey progresses, and it is easy to see the development of their dynamic from that of near-strangers to kin.
A few years ago, I reviewed the Cuban film, Alice in Wondertown. This film commented on the Cuban communist government through the lenses of psychological illusions and absurd humor. While Sleepwalking Land is not as explicitly political as Alice in Wondertown, both films vividly examine the mental processes of people who are coping with loss, oppression, and social alienation. They both focus in particular on how traumatized individuals create fantasies to handle desperate situations, and how these dreams begin to seamlessly weave their way into the fabric of reality.