“Neptune Frost” is the sort of film that needs to be experienced without trying too hard to unravel the intricacies of directors Saul Williams (who also wrote and composed the music for the movie) and Anisia Uzeyman’s complex world-building in their Afrofuturist musical. At the same time, it’s essential to engage with the film with a curiosity equal to that of its filmmakers. The narrative wafts in and out of dreams and reality, dimensions and states of being, but through it all there’s a powerful message of transformation and liberation.
An installment of Williams’ MartyrLoserKing project (which also consists of a graphic novel and three albums), “Neptune Frost” opens in Burundi, where in the hilltops miners labor searching for coltan, a mineral that powers electronics. After witnessing his brother be brutally beaten to death by one of the soldiers overseeing the mine, Matalusa (Kaya Free) flees, his dreams guiding him to another dimension, where he meets Neptune. We witness Neptune (Elvis Ngabo) also experience a tragic loss that prompts them to run from their village. When Neptune enters that same dimension, they are now played by Cheryl Isheja, lending new meaning to Neptune’s opening statement “l was born in my 23rd year.” The former miner and intersex hacker are immediately drawn to each other, and to a group of Black revolutionaries who plan to fight back against their totalitarian government known only as The Authority.
“Neptune Frost” utilizes a cast of all Rwandan and Burundi performers, and the innate connection they all seem to share helps Williams’ pulsing songs, many of which consist of repetitive chants, spring to life. The music, which weaves organically in and out of the narrative, helps bind the characters together, along with their mission. Their fight to push back against the colonialist forces that seek to control them manifests itself in song and in the urgent rallying cry of the climax. The actors all deliver passionate performances, and Matalusa and Neptune’s romance— brought about by cosmic forces— is mesmerizingly brought to life by Ngabo and Isheja.
The production and costume design further illustrates the film’s technological themes, with designer Cedric Meziro integrating wires and microchips into colorful fabrics. The lighting also beautifully illuminates the cast’s black skin, particularly in the dreamscapes where they are cast in brilliant blue and purple tones. Even in moments where “Neptune Frost” ventures into overly confounding territory, the imagination and creatively exercised by Williams, Uzeyman, and the rest of their crew is nothing short of admirable, and frequently awe-inspiring. They are visionary filmmakers with something to say, and it’s never not thrilling to watch the potential that can be achieved when creators are given the freedom to reach for their dreams.
“Neptune Frost” is expanding to select theaters nationwide; it’s currently playing at BAM and Syndicated in NYC and Laemmle NoHo in Los Angeles, and opens in DC June 17 and the AMC Magic Johnson in Harlem June 24. Runtime: 105 minutes.
Media review screener courtesy Kino Lorber.