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Winner of Fespaco 99 but perhaps not the best film shown
Pièces d'identités was showing as part of Fespaco 99 here in Ouagadougou at the open air Stade Municipal. We sat high up on the tiniest, most plasticky green seats within spitting distance of those five plush leather armchairs, one of which must have had the privilege of the presidential backside at the opening ceremony. The quality and level of the film's sound and picture were first class which was a pleasant surprise given the fact that we were in a sports stadium. Best of all there were easy-to-read English subtitles; a good thing considering this was a much more sophisticated and wordy film than 'Rue Princesse'.
However I was disappointed with the film itself. It was nicely photographed (mostly in Brussels) and the acting was fine but the main problem was the script and the direction. The film was full of unnecessary racial stereotypes: the leering, white police inspector, the racist white bar customers, the black petty crook/ pimp. The film correctly made the point that Europe is not the land of milk and honey that I am sure a lot Africans dream about. Background shots of people sleeping rough at the railway station, over-policing of blacks rightfully going about their business etc. all reinforced this image.
I also felt that not enough drama was made of the fast downward spiral situation that the visiting Congolese king, Mani Kongo, found himself in. Solutions for his problems were too easily come by: his lost passport being found under a trash can, the police inspector knowing him from his colonial administrative days, twenty years previously. Whilst there can be a lot going for a story in which the characters either meet or just miss each other by chance during the course of the film I would say that this plot device was hugely overused and without the necessary dramatic tension to justify its use. It turned out that all the characters, who were introduced to us as strangers, were related in some way to each other. I felt that, whilst the concept of the film - the different customs and values between the heart of the Congo jungle and Brussels - was potentially very strong, the director squandered this opportunity for powerful satire and savage black comedy.
One of the most memorable bits for me was during one of the film's flashback sequences. There was a piece of black and white archive footage shot in 1960 during a visit by the King of Belgium to the Congo. In this newsreel the King's motorcade is shown driving down the road flanked on both sides by a sea of waving, cheering black faces. A person from the crowd suddenly rushes forwards to the King's open top limousine and steals the king's sword from out of his scabbard by his side. He then starts swinging the sword around in front of the crowd, shouting revolutionary slogans whilst the police follow him around nervously in a game of cat and mouse, with pistols drawn, amongst the cars of the stopped motorcade. If that archive footage was genuine it was truly amazing, full of spectacle and tension.
Overall, a well made film but with a script that ties up too many loose ends; perhaps not the best film at the festival.
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