Mano Review

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AKA: Unsuccessful Life
Genre: Neorealism/Drama/Romance

Year Released: 2017

Distributor: Habtay TV

Origin: Eritrea
Running Time: 119 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: August the First, Dreams of Dust, If Beale Street Could Talk, Troubled Water, Mother of Mine, Grave of the Fireflies

-This film is on YouTube and is serialized in different videos.
Fun Facts:
-Mano takes place in Massawa. That’s Eritrea’s third-largest city after Asmara and Keren respectively with a population of over 53,000. It is a coastal city on the Red Sea and it used to be Eritrea’s capital.

Hello again, Eritrea. How are you doing? This will be the second time watching a movie from your nation. However, this is a full-length film unlike The Unfinished Cigarette this time around. Exploring African movies have been quite an experience, so I wonder about some other cinema in this country in the Horn could be like.

How does this movie fare?

Mano deals with the life of Mahlet and her young son Kibret. The son Kibret almost drowns in the harbor, but he is saved by a mysterious man named John Abdu. Mahlet thanks John Abdu for rescuing her son. She works hard at a local restaurant to provide for her family but feels that she isn’t appreciated by her dictator of a manager. John also has his own issues as he’s a widower who also lost his child in the past and gets vocally bombarded by Siham who is his sister-in-law (the sister of John’s dead wife) who accuses him of murdering the rest of his family. John Abdu and Mahlet see each other multiple times and want to foster a relationship, but so much conflict between their pasts and present coincides with so much drama.

This was my first exposure to a full-length Eritrean drama, and there were some parts that actually impressed me. I found most of the plot to be believable and the acting was really good. I give major props to John’s actor who really sells the emotions of someone who’s serious, yet harbors so much sorrow on the inside in subtle ways in his facial expressions and dialogue. The filmmaking is definitely neorealistic like the works of Jafar Panahi or Miraz Bezar, but I thought it worked over here as the gritty nature works well with the story. The main characters were people I could root for more often than not. There were even some plot twists that I didn’t see coming or happen in ways I didn’t expect. John’s backstory with his dead wife and child was very tragic and I’m avoiding spoilers for this. I also have to give a big thumbs up to one major aspect of John’s character. He’s a Black man who actually WANTS to be a father figure to a child for the right reasons. [M. Bison voice] YES! YES! It’s freaking phenomenal seeing a Black man actually willing and able to take fatherly responsibilities even though Kibret isn’t his own son with so many mainstream movies and media (especially American media) showing fathers either dead, deadbeat, or in jail, so this broke a huge stereotype going on. Mahlet is also a great hard-working character who struggles to provide but wants to do anything she can to make sure Kibret is happy and secure. She also has flaws since she won’t tell Kibret who his real father is, but he sees the good in John and not just because he rescued him.

Mano has things to like about it, but there were some noticeable mistakes that plagued some of my enjoyment of this film. For starters, the subtitles were riddled with typos which were distracting. The scoring was very amateur as the volume would change dramatically and the incidental music gave me whiplash while being overdramatic. I also had one issue with the climax. While the ending is rewarding with the main characters, I refuse to believe that John Abdu let alone ANY man would let someone else (spoilers avoided) do what they did to a loved one. He came off as a bit too forgiving for my taste despite criminal acts being done and people having gone to jail for less than what a certain person did regardless of what country this took place in.

Mano was a good film from director Suleman Omer and I’m thankful to have watched this cinematic effort. The acting was very good and it was decently shot. The drama works very well with the plot twists and naturalized conflict with the various characters around. However, some of the technical things regarding sound and subtitling left a lot to be desired. Mano was a nice surprise and I hope to see more works from Omer.

Adjustable Point System:

Add 1 point if you like family drama stories.
Subtract 1-3 points if you want the technical aspects to be of higher quality.


-Great acting
-Nice drama and plotting
-John Abdu destroyed the “Black men are worthless fathers” stereotype


-Rampant subtitle typos
-Variable quality in sound design and scoring
-Some poverty porn elements

Final Score: 7/10 points

Content Warning: Mano would probably get a PG-13 if this got rated in America, but there are times when it does push it a bit. The language can be strong in different parts. Mahlet’s jealous co-worker tends to dress scandalously and seduces the boss of the restaurant a couple of times. The finale involves a character kidnapping and threatening to murder Kibret which gets very intense. Mahlet has skeletons in her closet as she admitted she got pregnant out of wedlock. There are tragic elements like how John Abdu’s family dies which is quite saddening.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Mano is property of Suleman Omer and Habtay. The screenshot is from YouTube and is property of Habtay.

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