“Another day of life, Ricardo”. A painful smile appears on the face of Captain Farrusco, with the desperate awareness of one who knows that in war another day to live is to be enjoyed as a gift that should not be wasted. Also to fight. His unit has been reduced to a few men, young men, the only ones, remaining to defend the southern front and surrounded by enemy forces. Munitions and petrol, armed with the courage that only an ideal can give. Another day of life in Angola in 1975, after gaining its independence, sunk into a fierce and confused civil war where Ryszard Kapuścinski, the greatest reporter and writer of all time, carries out his profession.
ANOTHER DAY OF LIFE by Raul de la Fuente and Damian Nenow, presented in a special screening at the 71st Cannes Film Festival, is the film made of one of the most intimate and personal works of the Polish journalist. An historical documentary, a true story, a graphic novel. A successful mix of different styles within a plot that combines live characters, contemporary interviews and images of Angola today.
Another day to be noted and to recount to the world the confuçao, the chaos, the confusion of Angola in 1975, where Ryszard Kapuścinski reports on one of his most important news services, to then, become his most famous book, a reportage that opens up a genre in itself in narrative journalism.
In 1974, Angola (an agglomerate of different ethnic groups and tribes), a decade behind most of the other African countries, was preparing to become a “state of recent independence”, after five centuries of colonial servitude. The war for national liberation had lasted 13 years against the occupying Portugal of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, who for 35 years had imposed an authoritarian and Fascist identity on the little country with a the great colonial empire (Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Cabo Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe).
However, instead of awakening, the country sunk into a bloody civil war, right at the dawn of its independence. Angola passed in a very short time from an anti-imperialist struggle to a civil war and then an international conflict. An escalation that was to see a growing number of outsiders enter the field and interests come into play, transforming the country into a bizarre ground for the competition between the Unites States and the Soviet Union, a thermometer to measure their global balance of power. The “border war”, the third in size after Korea and Vietnam in the Cold War years, lasted decades. In 2002, the peace negotiators revealed the casualties of the conflict – 500,000 victims, 3 million displaced, hundreds of thousands of Angolans in flight towards Zaire and Zambia.
ANOTHER DAY OF LIFE is set between the end of one war and the beginning of another. Ryszard Kapuścinski arrives in Luanda, the city of paranoia, on the eve of the Portuguese departure. He is the only foreign correspondent present. 11 November 1975, independence day, while the Portuguese are leaving the country in haste, the fight for power explodes between the three anti-colonial guerrilla groups, representing different ethnic elements: the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) founded in 1956 by Agostinho Neto, Marxist inspired and representing the urban ethnic Ambundu; the National Liberation Front of Angola (FLNA), the voice of the Bakongo ethnic group with an objective to restore the ancient empire of The Congo; and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), a right-wing movement with a strong following in the rural ethnic group of the Ovimbundi. Behind the MLPA, there is the Soviet Union and Castro’s Cuba, while China and South Africa support the FNLA, and white “volunteers” and considerable American funding (military and under the guidance of the CIA) fuel the UNITA.
With his insatiable curiosity always taking him to the front, in faraway and unknown places, throwing himself into the very midst of wars, listening to its heartbeats, Kapuścinski leaves for the south of the country, to enter the brutal center of the war, where Angola’s future will be decided. To recount the actual news of actual people, always the main protagonists in his journalism, such as Captains Farrusco and Carlota, who more than any others will mark his Angolan experience.
“Ricardo, the south is a Russian roulette, they don’t even wear uniforms, it’s impossible to distinguish friends from enemies. The friends of the MLPA are called Camerada, the enemies Irmao. Never be the first to greet someone.” (Arthur Queiroz, reporter)
Unpaved and dusty roads with bodies piled up along them, tortured bodies of women and children, barbaric fratricides in the name of ideals and ideologies. An important and decisive front, on the borders with Namibia and South Africa, under the control of just one man, Captain Farrusco, a Portuguese of the regular army. A deserter who took up the MLPA flag. The Che Guevara of Angola, the popular hero, the embodiment of the cause.
“The MPLA activists had the support of 90% of the population, they were heavily armed and especially supported in the outlying areas”, tells Luis Alberto, an Angolan journalist at the front.
In Balombo, Kapuścinski meets Carlota, the female face of Angola, an arrogant and proud guerrilla with a kalashnikov over her shoulder and a plan for the nation in mind. She wants to be photographed by the journalists that have come from afar, immortalized so she will not be forgotten, as the world will know her face before she dies. Carlota and all the fighters of her unit will be killed in a UNITA attack. Her death is the first moment of a professional and existential crisis that Kapuścinski will go through during his three months in Angola, where he will question himself and his job, both inextricably linked. However, his journey continues, risking his life until he reaches the invisible red line that separates him from Captain Farrusco.
“South Africa wants Angola, they have those bloody CIA dollars and are on the border. We are the only obstacle in their way. Do you know how many there are of us? Fifty. Get it down, it’s my last interview. Welcome to your grave.”
“Why did you change sides?”
“They sent us here, the best of the Portuguese parachutists. These boys were the enemy against whom we had to fight, boys of 12 years of age.”
Switching to his lively counterpart, the ex-commandant relives in an interview the moment of the South African advance, the defeat, the roar of the helicopters.
“[…] It was an unequal fight”, Farrusco recounts, “artillery, machine guns, tanks. For four hours, it was a massacre.”
Slowly as the war becomes more confused and incomprehensible, doubts and questions begin taking over the journalist’s mind. Up to what point can a person push the desire to go out into the world? Up to what point can you tell the truth of the unpredictable consequences, up to what point can a reporter change the course of events and bear the burden? Questions that there, in Angola, in the field, certainly cannot be answered as if you were in a class room. Kapuścinski would like to tell the world that the South African forces are invading Angola, armed with artillery and tanks with the support of the CIA. But the world denies it.
He would like to say that the racism of the Afrikaner is spreading all over the continent, that the MPLA was only abandoned by the Soviets, that the Cubans are arriving and this, in the words of Henry Kissinger, means an American response. He would like to tell the entire world forgotten by decolonization, the ideals of the “African road to socialism”, this is the Cold War and the Cold War never finishes. He would like to fight the information battle and win. He would like the world to know what is important to know.
“Ricardo, if you publish the news about Cuba’s involvement, the CIA will intercept your telex. Your scoop will place many people in danger, it will change the course of events. The Americans will do much more than support the South African forces, they will eliminate Angola from the map.” (Arthur)
It all seems like centuries have passed, a frenetic succession of faces, places and dead bodies. I have no other news, the journalist’s telex prints out.