'Neptune Frost' an Afro-punk sort-of musical exploding with ideas

Saul Williams takes on life, technology and capitalism in this wildly creative, free-associative head trip.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Not a musical but not not a musical, "Neptune Frost" is a blazingly original mood piece about humanity, technology, the Earth and our spirits and how they all tangle in rhythm, or out of rhythm, with each other. 

It is so packed with ideas and symbolism that it barely tries cohering to a traditional narrative. Visionary writer and co-director Saul Williams, working with co-director Anisia Uzeyman, fashions a jarring, odd, lovely, transfixing experience that is difficult to categorize or even explain but needs to be seen to be felt. 

A scene from "Neptune Frost."

The story is set in a Rwandan village where a hacker collective wears technology on their sleeves, quite literally; they don jackets made from old keyboard parts, facial jewelry and eyewear from repurposed motherboards, and all manner of DIY tech that looks like it was rescued from a '90s Radio Shack.

This group leads a sort of revolution against capitalistic forces and the local coltan mine that takes the form of an explosion of music, costumes and symbols; the free-associative images encompass birth and rebirth, dreams, memories, corruption and hope.

It's a lot, and its characters are fluid (lead character Neptune is played by both Cheryl Isheja and Elvis Ngabo), as is the dialogue. The phrase "unanimous goldmine" is used throughout the film (the film is mainly in Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, among other languages), and whatever it means, it's a fitting stand-in for the big ideas the film wrestles with and the wholly unique way it presents them. 

Splashes of color are everywhere: blacklit blues, electric purples and pinks, all the more bright against the rural backdrop of its setting. Williams, a New York musician, has long been an outsider and a rabble rouser, known for making confrontational art that shakes one's core. With "Neptune Frost," he's created something as challenging as it is rewarding, as emotional as it is inventive. It's film as an expression of the senses. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Neptune Frost'

GRADE: B+

Not rated: language

Running time: 105 minutes

At Cinema Detroit