With his striking short film ‘Beach Boy’ Danish filmmaker Emil Langballe shines a light onto the unveiled reality of sex tourism in contemporary Kenya. The story he tells is similar to Ulrich Seidl’s ‘Paradise: Love’ which one year earlier competed for the Palme d’Or in Cannes. What sets it apart however is that it is a documentary investigating the processes of co-dependence between male companions and female benefactors.
The film follows unemployed Juma, whose pregnant girlfriend left to work in Qatar. Roaming the beach of Mombasa he joins the league of young men vying for the attention of middle-aged European women who spend their holidays in the local beach resorts. When Juma meets British tourist Lynn and an alleged romance begins to kindle, his dream of a better life in Europe seems to come within reach. He hopes for a British visa or at least some money to get by and Lynn, although aware of his intentions, longs so badly for love and desire that she tunes out the artificiality of their relationship.
Despite of her turning a blind eye on it, Langballe – director, producer and cinematographer – makes sure that the audience does not fall for the false sense of romance. His images show a couple enjoying playful times in the pool and romantic dinners, but never let us be part of the intimacy. We remain observers of something thoroughly unreal, forced to see the uncomfortable bigger picture – the repetitive pattern of black men surrounding white women at the beach, the contrast of life inside and outside of the resort, the dishonesty hidden in both his and her eyes.
Langballe’s choice to include the voices of Juma’s family and fellow beach boys adds to the self-awareness for the intentions, benefits and issues of the practice of “romance tourism”. He makes clear that the exploitation works in two ways but somehow the film’s message feels constructed at times. Maybe a longer running time would have given it more space to unfold naturally. Instead Lynn’s self-reflection and Juma’s conversations with his absent girlfriend seem a little forced. In this sense, Seil’s ‘Paradise: Love’ exceeded ‘Beach Boy’ in conveying an authentic perspective although it was fiction.
These stylistic issues aside, Langballe’s film adds a layer to the common discourses of post-colonialism and sex tourism. Watching ‘Beach Boy’ creates unease, a feeling of shame and a feeling of guilt – without slapping these in our faces, they unfold gradually and stick with us long after the credits rolled.
This review was originally published for Nisimazine CFTF 2014 here.