Another Man's Garden

Michael Curtis Nelson

This modern fable vividly captures the plight of women seeking education and a better life in postcolonial Africa.

Another Man's Garden

Director: #227;o Luis Sol de Carvalho
Cast: Gigliola Zacara, Evaristo Abreu, Maria Amélia Pangane, Cristina Salazar, Timóteo Maposse, Filomena Remigio
Distributor: First Run
MPAA rating: Unrated
Display Artist: João Luis Sol de Carvalho
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2006-01-20

A high school girl who dreams of being a doctor encounters trials and temptations in this modern fable that vividly captures the plight of women seeking education and a better life in postcolonial Africa. Sofia lives in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, the former Portuguese colony on the southeast coast of Africa that achieved independence in 1974, and that remains poor and underdeveloped. Traditional attitudes towards women’s roles in the family and community still prevail; the film’s title comes from a proverb, “sending a girl to school is like watering another man’s garden”.

The film follows several months in Sofia’s life as she attempts to complete high school with grades high enough to get her into university. There are plenty of obstacles; personal, familial, societal. Her boyfriend, interested only in his own ambitions to play professional soccer, is jealous of Sofia’s educational goals and pressures her to quit school and marry him. Sofia’s mother only grudgingly supports her daughter’s education, and encourages her to work instead at the local quarry where she herself is employed.

Sofia’s teacher catches her passing exam answers to a classmate, and threatens to fail her unless she has sex with him, a practice so common at the school that Sofia’s best friend Jessica refers to trading sex for favors as using a “credit card”. All these conflicts reach a crisis, but are only partially resolved, and the film ends on a modest note of hope for Sofia’s future.

Jessica, with ambitions to be a fashion model, Sofia’s mother and grandmother, and Jessica’s older sister, a doctor, offer a range of female roles for the young woman, as well as an instructive survey of the possible futures for black girls in Mozambique. The limitations to the assistance they can offer Sofia in the face of entrenched sexism and paternalism powerfully underscore the precarious nature of the young woman’s dream.

Like much cinema from developing countries, Another Man’s Garden provides stark contrasts. Cinematic realism complements the features of traditional storytelling (shots of city streets and shantytown blocks, frank discussions of the prevalence of HIV), including parables from the animal world (wildlife footage interrupts the story frequently to stress the analogy established early between Sofia and the impala, which can delay birth or even abort its young, when threatened), and stock characters like Sofia’s wise, aphorism-spouting grandmother.

But for all the traditional elements, Sofia is a complex character whose imperfections might shock Western audiences used to a strong dose of morality in films dealing with teens. She helps another student cheat on an exam, and steals a shirt from a market vendor after she has scorched hers with an iron. She has an established sexual relationship with her boyfriend, which the film presents as a medical threat, given the dangers of unprotected sex, not a moral failing.

Low-budget production values occasionally impinge on the film’s effect. Another Man’s Garden is shot on video, and some of the cast appear to be amateurs, or at least actors unused to film. In terms of plot, these limitations work to the film’s advantage; there are no wasted scenes, and the action is well paced.

The video image lacks depth, however, and makes interior scenes especially look flat and stagy. Daytime crowd scenes work best, where video lends the freshness and vitality of documentary footage. Sound can be a problem at times: while the dialog is clear, music is often distorted.

Another Man’s Garden is the first feature from director, co-writer, and executive producer João Luis Sol de Carvalho, a journalist, photographer, and film and television producer. The film is part of the Global Lens film series, which “promotes cross-cultural understanding through cinema” with yearly tours of the US of “films from developing countries”. For more information, go to

The Global Lens Film Series aims to place its films in classrooms, and the DVD contains a pdf of instructional materials, including a brief history of Mozambique, maps and statistics, a biography of the director, and the director’s notes about the film. While the section on film aesthetics is rudimentary, appropriate for high school, perhaps, but certainly too simplistic for college, the discussion questions would be helpful to a teacher using the film in a university class. DVD extras include a trailer for films in the 2007 Global Lens film series, and a showcase of series titles.






Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.