Her best-known film remains Sambizanga (1972), the first feature in Africa to be directed by a woman. Set in 1966 at the start of the Angolan War of Independence, and shot in Congo, the film tracks the resistance efforts of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), a militant group whose leader Mario Pinto de Andrade was also Maldoror’s husband. In part, it’s about the arrest and brutal torture of a tractor driver, Domingos Xavier, who lives in a working-class district of the capital city Luanda and harbours seditious beliefs such as: “There are no whites, no mulattos, no Blacks. There’s only the poor and the rich.” Maldoror gives equal importance to his wife Maria who, carrying along her infant child, sets out to find him, going from one prison to another, confronting indifference, lechery, dead ends.
In her suffering, she becomes a kind of Mother Angola. Her doggedness and her heartache are portrayed with wounding acuity and illuminate Maldoror’s much-quoted belief that ”African women must be everywhere. They must be in the images, behind the camera, in the editing room and involved in every stage of the making of a film. They must be the ones to talk about their problems.” Yet Maria’s plight is not solely African or colonial; a dogged seeker of justice, she resembles the desperate women in Zhao Liang’s documentary Petition (2009). For the director, she evokes “the alone-ness of a woman and the time it takes to trudge… It could be any woman, in any country, who takes off to find her husband.”