“Imperial Blue” is a thriller film that examines the brutal and terrible impacts of colonialism in Africa under the guise of a drug-addled crime story. However, the film’s superficial narrative and weak screenplay let down its unique premise.
“Imperial Blue” Film Review
Hugo Winter (Nicolas Fagerberg) is the rogue drug-smuggler protagonist who discovers a new drug, bulu, during a deal gone wrong. The mysterious blue powder allows users to see their future, and Hugo instantly becomes tantalized by the substance. When he is forced to cover a substantial debt to a crime boss after the failed deal, Hugo travels to Uganda to find the source of bulu.
At the same time in the village where bulu is produced from bright blue flowers, Kisakye (Esther Tebandeke) is a young woman dealing with a pastor and his congregation who convince her father to sign over her family’s land on his deathbed. When Hugo arrives at her village looking for bulu, she must manage his selfish desire to take her village’s most precious commodity with her own desire to protect her home.
Hugo is a charismatic—if flat— protagonist. Initially, it looks like the movie will revolve around him and succumb to white savior tropes that have plagued similar movies for decades. Luckily, the movie pivots to place Kisakye in a more prominent role over the course of its runtime. She represents a far more complex and interesting character, and use of an actual African protagonist does much to distance the film from the failings of those tropes and speak to colonial trauma.
Nonetheless, the script itself lets down the premise of an authentic African story. The dialogue is often bland and cheesy. Some lines that are meant to act as dramatic moments instead only feel cringey. The plot is conventional and follows a standard thriller format. I can’t say I was surprised by any particular twist or wowed by any particular scene.
How “Imperial Blue” Examines Colonialism
The way the film examines colonialism, however, is interesting, especially how it challenges this by making Hugo a sort of anti-hero. On one hand, we are rooting for him to pay off his debt and return home safely. On the other hand, he abuses the trust of a village simply to profit off of its most prized commodity. If the film leaned into this more, it would have made for a far more fascinating story.
Another unique aspect of the film is how it uses the bulu itself as a plot device. At various points, Hugo partakes in the substance. While he’s under the influence, the audience is treated to a montage of images that make no sense, but are clear glimpses into the future. As the film progresses, we see how each of those brief clips fit into the larger narrative. The way these sequences build anticipation and tension throughout the film is easily the highlight and definitely the best executed concept within it as a whole.
The Technical Beauty of “Imperial Blue”
On a technical level too, the film truly excels. There are a lot of beautiful shots, and the cinematography has to be praised. Whether it’s the seedy back alleys where drug deals take place or a trippy sequence under the influence of Bulu, the colors always pop. The music is also well done, if not particularly memorable.
As a whole, “Imperial Blue” has some real bright spots that are let down by lackluster execution during some parts. If you’re interested in drug thrillers, films that examine colonialism, or cinema that portrays its events from an African perspective, then it is definitely a film that will appeal to you. For the more casual filmgoer, however, it might not be worth the watch.