Oka! Blu-ray Review

“I have to get home to Africa. I am stuck…in New Jersey.”

That is Larry Whitman (Kris Marshall, who played the goofy, woman-seeking Brit Colin in LOVE ACTUALLY), an ethnomusicologist and expert in Bayaka Pygmy music—which may be a piece of information to leave off the Match.com profile. It’s the States that bring him down and make him feel cold and alien. Early on, he’s told by a doctor that he has liver failure. In Larry’s eyes, he has just one trip left in him—and he plans on taking it.

Oka!

On the trip, Larry seeks to collect a Malimo, a musical instrument that many believe to be nothing more than a myth. In the meantime, he’ll reestablish his passions and friendships—which isn’t hard, seeing as he’s greeted with such enthusiasm by the locals, who remember Larry well from his previous visits. But it’s not all smiles. While in a hut one day, one of the men reveals to Larry that the mayor, Bassoun (Isaach de Bankole, THE KILLING ZONE), has forbidden the residents from going into the forest. Anyone found outside of their village and amongst the trees will be shot on sight.

Oka!

The primary source of noise around the area seems to come less from music than it does sawmills and CAT vehicles. And Bassoun, who hopes to strengthen ties with a wealthy businessman (Will Yun Lee, FOUR ASSASSINS), is behind it all. He’s a greedy bastard, the sort of person who will frame the locals as poachers so they will be less of a burden to his mission.

Fortunately, OKA! (which means listen in Bayaka) isn’t entirely about the white man coming to save the day, as some of the plot might suggest. It’s more about how encroaching industry can put so much fear into a group of people who have few or no means to fight back and, as a result, lose so much of what makes them them.

Oka!

OKA! is based on the life and travels of Louis Sarno, in particular his book, Last Thoughts Before Vanishing from the Face of the Earth. (The screenplay is actually written by Sarno, along with Suzanne Stroh and director Lavinia Currier, whose previous efforts include 1985’s HEART OF THE GARDEN and 1997’s PASSION IN THE DESERT.)

Part of what makes OKA! such a fine movie is the main character. Larry’s not trying to help the Pygmy people for his own benefit or praise back home. He genuinely cares for them and wants them to live as they wish. Of course, there are moments that highlight how evil corporations can be, but that comes with this sort of story.

Oka!

Undoubtedly, the highlight is the photography by Conrad W. Hall (son of the late Conrad L. Hall and cinematographer on such films as PANIC ROOM and OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN). Hall, at times, shoots OKA! as a kind of documentary, which serves to immerse the viewer in the culture and surroundings, and does a lot to involve them in the story and have them rooting for the locals.

OKA! BLU-RAY REVIEW

Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. This excellent high-definition transfer captures the locales (from the massive green forests to the crowded brown huts) with stunning detail and clarity, remaining faithful to both the people and Conrad W. Hall’s cinematography.

Audio: English, French and Aka DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Subtitles in English. This audio transfer is very layered and atmospheric, with various sounds (including bird chirps, machinery rumbles and elephant calls) and a Bayaka soundtrack that lend to the overall feel of the movie.

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