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First Look Review - GOING BONGO

An American doctor finds himself at a rundown Tanzanian hospital.


Review by Troy Balmayer

Directed by: Dean Matthew Ronalds

Starring: Ernest Napoleon, Emanuela Galliussi, Ashley Olds, Nyokabi Gethaiga, McDonald Haule



"Going Bongo may follow the rule book of feel good filmmaking, but it follows it correctly, and you do indeed feel good upon completion of watching this feature. It may play fast and loose with some third world stereotypes, but its heart is certainly in the designated place."


Taking its source from a true tale of a French doctor leaving his job to work in Africa, Going Bongo follows Dr. Lewis Burger as he ends up in an auction where he’s bid to fly out to Tanzania and work there for a month in a local hospital. His conflicts lie with being used to America and trying to prepare a marriage with fiancé Marina, but soon he knows he has to step up to help this under resourced facility.
Just from the bright disposition of the opening titles alone the audience can tell they’re in for a feel good film. The animated titles, with that slight Saul Bass design of graphics, incorporates medicinal imagery with the African setting, giving it the perfect sunny curtain raiser. It then comes fading into reality with an Armenian family who are less glamorous than the Kardashian clan, but Kim, sorry, Marina, has that golden dream power hungry stance and is about to marry American guy Kanye, sorry, Lewis. The characters and early scenes of this film make you feel as if that happy looking title sequence was the best it could get.
Thankfully that doesn’t ring true, though the first stages of this film are slightly limp to be honest. Lewis Burger is monotone and grumbling about while glamour puss Marina pushes him around to get the main story going. Then it picks up as we shuttle over to Africa. The hospital is basic; under staffed and over capacity with HIV, mosquitos and problematic births giving this film that edge of bitter truth we all know is actually happening as we live our lives. We see it on news or charity telethons, the situations are dire and though there is some light relief to be had, the film doesn’t shy away from the heavier moments of possible deaths, diseases and complications.
Ernest Napoleon, on hand for acting and screenplay duties, writes a well-structured movie that can stretch some silly conceptions on their hospitals, like an African doctor dropping a surgery tool on the floor and wiping it off on his apron before using it again on a patient. The better writing is in the serious moments, building Burger’s role up as he becomes accustomed to the heat and madness of this new place. Feel good has never felt so good; a make-shift wheelchair becoming a symbol of kindness and determination to help a woman overcome by HIV sticks as a running thread.
The comedy lands on its feet at times - from language barriers to an old fangled shower - but it fails hard at one point when they take shots at a voodoo belief. It’s no mistake to know that people from that continent do believe in the power of witch doctor magic and advice but when they begin mucking about with dancing and whacking sticks to try and help someone it feels a little sour, as if they’re mocking their long held beliefs. Of course we know that actual science and medicine are the cure, but this scene doesn’t feel right.
Ernest Napoleon is good as the doctor, his role being perhaps somewhat overly naïve at times, but he’s trying and you can’t help but be on his side for that. Ashley Olds plays the fiancé Marina, who is actually likeable to start with, her problem of a family not approving of her love, but then she becomes more and more grating as someone who doesn’t seem to have her eyes open that her husband to be is not wanting what she wants for him. She plays that unsympathetic trait really well. The rest of the cast - either doctors or patients - could easily be actors or actual African civilians; either way they play their parts so well that the hospital feels real and they give a spark to the story.
Going Bongo goes the right way in creating a movie that isn’t reliant on anything unnecessary; no CGI, no nudity, fights or tension to ramp up the film’s scale. It settles back with a slightly funny and simple yet effective story about doing the right thing for a country and hospital that is struggling.
A bumbling start grows into a sweet and insightful story that may follow the rule book of feel good filmmaking, but it follows it correctly, and you do indeed feel good upon completion of watching this feature. It may play fast and loose with some third world stereotypes, but its heart is certainly in the designated place, leaving no need for Doctor Burger to begin movie surgery.




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