Vashti Anderson’s Moko Jumbie (which screens at BAM today at 7:30 pm) tells the story of a young British woman of Indian descent, Asha (Vanna Girod), who comes to Trinidad and Tobago to stay with her aunt and cousin. What at first appears to be a cute and straightforward story of self-discovery, memory, and exploring ones cultural roots becomes something more as Asha becomes involved with Roger, the African Trinidadian boy from across the street. Asha’s ho-hum life with her aunt turns mysterious and exciting when she sneaks out in the middle of the night to meet with Roger. The two make their way through the darkened streets together and encounter a machete bearing, demon-voiced spirit who Roger addresses nonchalantly, as if he were any odd passerby. Later in the night Asha sees a strange masked figure on stilts which she later learns is the titular moko jumbie. Slowly Asha’s world is revealed to be one of folk magic and spirits that drift in and out of her life as naturally as passing clouds.
The spirits in Moko Jumbie are both personal and cultural—the history of the islands inhabitants and how they arrived as slaves haunts them, as does the prospect of a home across the sea they never knew and the family they have lost. Moko Jumbie’s magical realism seeks to give a narrative expression to the diasporic reality of being two things at once. Asha’s Uncle (Dinesh Maharaj, who gives the film’s best performance) communicates this idea in two of his precious few scenes. He tells Asha about the possibility of multiple universes, maybe even one where his ancestors never left India. In the film’s most tender and powerful scene, both Asha and her Uncle look to the sea as she asks him to return to India with her. A single tear runs down his face—it is too late for him. Looking to the sea occurs again and again in Moko Jumbie. It is a beautiful living landscape whose movements hold a hypnotic beauty, but it is also the direction of a spiritual and cultural home for those who came from somewhere else.