O Testamento Do Senhor Napumoceno (Napumoceno's Will)

O Testamento do Senhor Napumoceno is an epic, or at least an epic farce, from one of the world's least known but most culturally complex societies - Cape Verde. This classic tale of the hollowness at the core of provincial bourgeois life introduces English speaking audiences to Germano Almeida, one of the outstanding writers in Portuguese today. With its novelistic breadth, the film offers a bildungsroman of a man and a society so caught up in the pursuit of conventional success and prestige it overlooks its true self almost until it is too late.

Discovered in 1462 and settled before Columbus' arrival in America, the arid Cape Verde archipelago is arguably home to the oldest, most thoroughly Creolized culture in the world. Indeed, the Portuguese used the islands as an advertisement for their missao civilizadora or assimilationist colonialism. Neither fully African or European, educated, mixed race Cape Verdeans served as bureaucrats throughout the empire, though they played a leading role in the anti-colonial struggle as well, as exemplified by Amilcar Cabral (see Mortu Nega.) Cape Verdeans, scattered around the Atlantic Rim by geography and economics for centuries, intuitively understood the idea of "transnational identity" long before it became a buzzword in cultural studies journals.

The production of O Testamento do Senhor Napumoceno reflects this complex cultural heritage. The director, Francisco Manso, is Portuguese; the script is based on a novel by Cape Verdean Germano Almeida; the actors are mostly Brazilian including Nelson Xavier, Maria Ceica, Chico Diaz and Zezé Motta and the soundtrack features Cape Verdean musicians Tito Paris and Césaria Evora. This is the first truly Pan-Lusophonic film production and the first to be commercially released in North America.

Like Citizen Kane, O Testamento do Senhor Napumoceno is structured around the riddle of its hero's death. Why did Sr.Napumoceno Araœnjo da Silva, a leading trader in the islands, leave his estate to a heretofore unknown illegitimate daughter Graça rather than his protege and nephew, Carlos, a sychophantic, carbon copy of himself? The existence of Graça suggests a whole side of Napumoceno's life few suspected, one he may have come to value above his public self. His story unfolds in flashbacks through a series of audiotapes he has made for Graça as a kind of apologia for his life.

At Napumoceno's request, the "Funeral March" from Beethoven's Eroica Symphony wheezes pompously from a generator-powered reel to reel tape deck wheeled beside his casket suggesting that our "hero" may not have been so heroic (of course, neither, it turned out was Beethoven's.) In 1928 Napumoceno arrived barefoot in Mindelo, the archipelago's only deep-water port, where he slowly worked his way up through the island's flourishing "import-export" industry, that is, smuggling. His great business coup resulted from mistakenly ordering 10,000 umbrellas for an island where it hadn't rained for two years. Facing ruin, he invoked divine intervention, unleashing an unprecedented deluge, reaping huge profits but destroying much of the housing of the poor.

By 1959 Napumoceno has become a prim, self-important pillar of Mindelo society, opening a new headquarters across from his mansion and becoming an enthusiast of technological progress and all things American. He feels special kinship to another self-made man, Abraham Lincoln, because they both started their meteoric careers as wood cutters. One day during the excitement of a soccer match on the radio, he impulsively and clumsily conceives a daughter with the woman who cleans his office. Although he would prefer the child be aborted, he agrees to support her upbringing on the condition of anonymity. Over the years, as he watches Graça grow into a beautiful young woman, his pride and affection bloom. When she dismisses his interest as the prurient advances of an old man, his character begins to achieve a certain depth and pathos.

1975 marks a turning point in Napumoceno's life and that of his country. It is the year of independence from Portugal; old icons are smashed; the old provincial economic and cultural dependence on Europe represented by Napumoceno's class seems destined for the "dust bin of history;" Cape Verde is on the verge, of pursuing an autonomous, self-reliant development path. Napumoceno, sensing that his time has passed, retires from public life to dictate his memoirs for Graça.

Now at age 61, when he least expects it, when he thought his life was over, when the islands are embarking on a new life, Napumoceno falls in love, probably for the first time, with a beautiful young woman, Adélia. Their relationship, as much spiritual as physical, unfolds in long walks along a beach littered with shipwrecks, symbolizing the sacrifice of his life and so many others to the empty dreams of success. Since he is the only person in the film actually to interact with Adélia, she may in reality be his dream, the dream of a deeper, more authentic involvement with himself and the islands. In fact, he calls her "the dream of my life" and my "gazelle," even though it is unlikely he has seen many gazelle on Cape Verde. It is ironic if altogether appropriate that when Napumoceno finally falls in love it is with a dream but then isolated islands are always over-populated with dreams.

Like every dream, Adélia vanishes as mysteriously as she appeared, swept away by her sailor/lover and the allure of the beyond. Napumoceno thus joins a long line of disappointed Cape Verdean dreamers, people like the frustrated soccer player, Mane in Fintar o Destino. This prevailing mood of saudade, the sadness of a people who have always had to look for their dreams elsewhere, is evoked by Cape Verde's national musical form the elegiac morna, brilliantly interpreted in this film by Cape Verdean diva, Cesaria Evora. Napumoceno's own parting advice to Graça is: "Be tenacious in everything you do - and love."

(The generous help of Professor Claire Andrade-Watkins of Emerson College was invaluable in the preparation of these notes.)

African History
Colonial and Post-Colonial Identity

"The film follows Cape Verde from colony to independence and while political events remain in the background they are an essential part to understanding Napumoceno. An engrossing film on the ironies of crossing lines of class and power."
--Phyllis Peres, University of Maryland

"As a meditation on life and the choices one makes,
O Testamento Do Senhor Napumoceno is touching with an accessible story and fresh locations. It takes a universal story and gives it the added spice of a culture largely unknown to American audiences."

"For the first time there is a Cape Verdean movie to enlighten all generations and bring the crioulo lifestyle to the big screen."
--Providence Journal

Producer/Director: Francisco Manso
Portugal/Cape Verde, 1998, 110 minutes
In Portuguese with English subtitles

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