Applying the Concepts of Linguistics to the Semiotics of Angolan Cinema Collective Geração 80

Author: Dr Zélie Asava (Independent Scholar)
Speaker: Dr Zélie Asava
Topic: Nonverbal Semiotics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


Film theory has been deeply indebted to structuralist and de Saussurian-derived linguistic models. As Robert Stam notes ‘semiotics in general, and film semiotics in particular, must be seen… as local manifestations of a more widespread linguistic turn’ (1989: 277). The decolonial turn has likewise revealed the embeddedness of ‘colonial aphasia’ (Stoler, 2016) and ‘amnesic-aphasic remembering’ (Tate, 2020) in Western narratives. As with Abderrahmane Sissako’s untranslated testimony of the dispossessed in Bamako (Mali, 2006), critically acclaimed Luandan film collective Geração 80’s films centralise themes of memory, nostalgia, invasion, (neo-)colonialism, resistance and complex, unarticulated histories in dialogue with both potential futurities and the recent past. Considering both the application of linguistics to the visual arts, and the ways in which a new wave of experimental Angolan cinema renders material its socio-historical legacies through spoken and aesthetic languages, this paper examines cinema as language and linguistic conventions in artistic production.

Just as major events influence the internal functioning of idioms, producing diachronic transformations, cinematic language has been transformed by technological and geopolitical shifts. In both Our Lady of the Chinese Shop (2022) and writer-director Ery Claver’s latest project with its narrator Meili Li, he explores the work of poetry, translation and writing through images, revealing parallelisms in Kimbundu and Cantonese. In writer-director Fradique’s Air Conditioner (2020) and his current project Hold Time for Me (recipient of a 2022 Science New Wave development grant from OneFifty | Warner Bros. Discovery), he reveals the hidden lives of the urban working class, engaging with themes of “collective change and confrontation… to push the boundaries in filmmaking in Angola and bring the conversation about the future of our country (2022).”

As Metz observes ‘to ‘speak’ a language is to use it, but to ‘speak’ cinematographic language is to a certain extent to invent it’ (73). This paper will apply the methods of linguistics to the semiotics of Geração 80 films in their use of spoken language, montage and other large syntagmatic units.

Following C. S. Pierce’s classification of signs, Peter Wollen (1972) observes that in cinematic language indexical and iconic elements prevail over the symbolic, which comes to prominence only in poetic cinema. As with Foucault’s (1967) concept of heterochronias, Geração 80’s poetic, surreal, satirical and socially engaged films open up cinema’s potential as a space for new understandings of past, present and future, for new archival conjugations, and for questioning as well as reinventing chronological, linguistic and ideological constructs.

Keywords: Linguistics, Semiotics, Angola, Cinema, Art, Translation