An Enjoyable Docu-Drama
Spanish drama Sara’s Notebook is an interesting, oftentimes engaging film but all too often the tendency to over-dramatise key scenes stifles what’s otherwise a compelling, dramatic film. Set in the heart of the Congo, there’s a distinct African flavour to much of the visual design but unlike fellow film Beasts Of No Nation, Sara’s Notebook feels superficial in its portrayal of the African nation, lacking the cutting edge needed to pull off some of the more dramatic scenes.
Following a brief, written introduction explaining the brutal chaos gripping the heart of Africa, a simple photograph sets the scene for the ensuing storyline. Spanish lawyer Laura (Belén Rueda) is our protagonist and when she sees a photograph of her sister Sara (Marian Álvarez) whose been presumed dead several years prior, she travels to the Democratic Republic Of Congo determined to find her sister and the men who have her captive. It’s a simple story and one that, for the most part, is told in a relatively straight forward manner.
While there are dramatic spikes in the story and at times this does feel a little too dramatic and over the top given the nature of the issues being tackled here, the most compelling part of the film is not the relationship between the two sisters but more the evolving relationship between Laura and Jamir (Iván Mendes) whom she befriends in Africa. It’s here where the cultural differences are shown to good effect and Sara’s Notebook is at its strongest when it lets these two characters’ relationship blossom and grow.
As we briefly mentioned earlier, the visual design of the film is generally very good. The contrasting shots between the lush jungle and the hot, bustling streets are really nicely presented but there’s a slightly contrived effort to constantly remind us that Africa is a dangerous and inhospitable place. It doesn’t detract too much from the way the story is told and there are some genuinely exciting and thrilling action set pieces here but they happen a little too frequently through this 2 hour adventure meaning when the finale does roll round, it doesn’t quite have the same dramatic effect it may have done without the incessant need to pepper large portions of the film with car chases, plane crashes and gun fights.
While Sara’s Notebook is a perfectly serviceable, enjoyable film with a decent ending and some reasonably well written character, it fails to capture the raw, brutal nature of the African Congo, paling in comparison to fellow Netflix Original Beasts Of No Nation. The action is a little contrived at times and the incessant need for thrills over slowly building tension does detract a little from the ensuing drama but on the whole, Sara’s Notebook is an enjoyable film and worth checking out.