There is no shortage of vivid and imaginative images in Saul William's Neptune Frost. This is an expansive Afro-centric science fiction film that celebrates the oppressed while condemning binary thinking. The film was co-directed by Anisia Uzeyman and follows Neptune, an intersex hacker (played by Elvis Ngabo and then Cheryl Isheja) who finds an eventual utopia in Digitaria. The film has a dream logic to it somewhat akin to a David Lynch film. There is a plot but the film is best enjoyed for the emotional journey it takes viewers on.
Neptune Frost takes on the human cost of capitalism with the society Williams and Uzeyman create. The film is structured as a cyber-infused musical. Williams uses songs from an accompanying album and recontextualizes them to fit several characters. The songs are sung in Kinyarwanda and Kirundi. The film's opening shot of the film is of Neptune's direct gaze at the camera, implicating the audience in the dismantling of certain societal structures. That may sound like the film is preaching but this is a celebration of liberation, not a lecture.
Neptune was born dead and reborn. "My life was never quite mine," she says in the film's narration. The narration and dialogue are often cryptic wordplay that reflects William's poetic background. What is revealed as the film goes on is that music connects people, unifying them when language is difficult to understand.
Neptune Frost's structure is also a challenge, as the film shifts perspectives often. It all leads to a climax in the tech-paradise Digitaria. The narrative defiance of structure over symbolism will be off-putting to some but go in ready to surrender to the film's mystique and you will find so much to appreciate. Even with these barriers, the film paints a clear message, especially in its depiction of Neptune's transition and the oppression she faces.
Contemporary in its style and thoughtful in its visual representation, Neptune Frost bursts with vision. Willams and Uzeyman's script is often too opaque but the film's musical numbers are powerful and clear-eyed. Dream-like films rarely wrestle with such weighty themes of reclamation, technology, and colonialism. Even if you don't pick up on all of the film's metaphors, you can certainly appreciate the amount of talent on screen. From the dancers to the costume designers, Neptune Frost is a visual feast. It overloads the senses even if it baffles the mind a bit.