Echoes From a Somber Empire (1990) Poster

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A fascinating game of tug-of-war with everything you hold dear: Can you win?
willson_x4 December 2011
Echos Aus Einem Düsteren Reich.( In English that's)- Echoes From A Sombre Empire

How do people make documentaries like this? it astounds me. First things first, this is beautiful and greatly sad. This documentary, however, only serves as a light dressing to try and anoint a wound long and deep and still bleeding: It cannot heal the scars left behind by the tyranny of what happened in the Central African Republic, but it serves as many things, mainly to aid the goodwill of mankind, to remind the viewer that you must never sympathise with perpetrators of terror in any disguise, shape or form. Jean-Bédel Bokassa was a product of the civilised world which created him, and they had to pay for his actions at great cost to the world. This documentary follows one man, Goldsmith, who was greatly affected by Bokassa, but remained true to his investigative, journalist instincts that put him into a torture chamber for many years, and although being a gentle man, he is a torchbearer for the truth, and he really got to me above all else. He uncovers the two sides of Bokassa, the human and the Cannibal Dictator, through interviewing the people who knew him well before being sentenced to death. Herzog helps him and the viewer on his quest for knowledge of the unknown and closure for what happened in Goldsmith's and the world's heavy past. In conclusion, this is by far the best source you are going to get on an intense period of history that says more to us about who we are than anything else, because it forces us to recognise that which was documented here as the truth, and we are put to the test as to whether we are strong enough to bear witness to the sadness created in the name of our pathetic and lonely civilisation, the cold heart of capitalism is something we must understand. Sometimes the truth does not set you free, sometimes it only reinforces what is already concrete, and that which is concrete cannot be anything more, and the failure of the other reviewer's perceptions is they tried to look for something beyond what is a perfect representation of the truth, they hold certain lies about what a film is very dear to them, but they fell short of the truth and are unsatisfied as a result. This is not a film for action junkies. Another reviewer on this website was talking about this docu having a lack of a 'Hook', which is sad because sometimes it is better to totally except what anguish does, and use your knowledge and your reflections on the sadness that happens to better your own lives so that you don't end up creating this confusing, endless void of ideas where the truth is told to wait while you look for the truth that suits you, but inevitably is created as a lie. Don't deny the Imperfectable, enjoy the freedom you have to watch this film and go on the journey this film will give you if you are warm-hearted.

***** If you liked this film... To be compared with it : "Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait" a documentary by another German film maker Barbet Schroeder who got special permission from crack-pot philosopher, self-proclaimed-economist and sinister dictator idi amin to film him. A seriously good film and comparison piece to Herzog's *****
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Good Doc
Michael_Elliott29 February 2008
Echoes From a Somber Empire (1990)

*** (out of 4)

Werner Herzog documentary about Central Africa's rule under Bokassa, which includes stories of torture as well as the leader being a cannibal. We are led through the documentary by a man named Michael Goldsmith who was tortured and imprisoned by Bokassa and now, since the leader is in jail, he goes back to get some answers. Various people from those tortured to the children of Bokassa are told and some in vivid detail. We're also shown a kitchen where it's said Bokassa would have people cooked on the huge stoves and then stored in the fridge. At the start of the documentary Herzog tells us that Goldsmith would go missing before the film was released.
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Documentary about really scary character
Horst_In_Translation31 July 2016
Warning: Spoilers
"Echos aus einem düsteren Reich" or "Echoes from a Somber Empire" is a French/German co-production and this film actually includes both languages and English parts as well. This is very fitting as the writer and director is Werner Herzog who has made films and documentaries in all kinds of languages. It runs for approximately 90 minutes and was released back in 1990, so already over 25 years ago. Herzog may be the big name here, but the real core character is Michael Goldsmith who has directly experienced the terror by Bokassa. Sadly, the Austrian-born Goldsmith still died the very same year that this film came out. I already mentioned Bokassa in here and you can check google or Wikipedia if you want to find out who he is exactly. There are many parallels to Idi Amin in my opinion, in terms of character, in terms of how he got to power and in terms of how he committed thousands of terrible crimes and still managed to get away and die from a natural death at an old age. Oh well.. now you know vaguely who is the central character in this film, even if it is mostly people talking about him and not him talking to people. You guessed right that press and neutral reporting just isn't his thing. But he was still alive when this film came out and it actually appeared at times that Herzog could interview him. Anyway, we see interviews with many people instead that had an impact on Bokassa's life or that Bokassa had an impact on their lives. One of them would be one of Bokassa's many wives, of course he also had many children with these many wives. So we find out first-hand basically as you could not really have gotten any closer to him than being married to him. Also pay attention to how the film includes the word "düster"/"somber" instead of "dunkel"/dark". I don't know if this was done intentionally, but I guess it is okay as some people really smell racism everywhere. For me personally, this was not one of my favorite Herzog films, also because you don't see or hear Herzog for large parts of the film (even if Goldsmith is interesting too) and I just love the man. But it was nonetheless a solid watch and a good documentary. Go see it.
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If you don't know Bokassa this is a tough haul. And even if you do its probably a bit dull.
dbborroughs27 April 2008
A Werner Herzog documentary I don't care for.

This is the story of Michael Goldsmith a reporter who is trying to get some semblance of the life of Jean Bedel Bokassa one time emperor of Central Africa. Bokassa had Goldsmith beaten and almost killed several times. We watch as Goldsmith talks to friends, family, enemies and anyone who knew the emperor, who at the time of the filming was in prison having been sentenced to death in absentia. Herzog follows Goldsmith and lets him ask the questions he wants to ask and go to the places he wants to go to. There is no judgment on anyone just the facts as laid out by the people on the way. Its a trip into a heart of darkness.

I'm not sure what I make of the film. The problem is that other than a vague passing notion I have no idea who Bokassa was. I didn't know very much about him, actually I knew almost nothing about him, and after seeing the film I'm not sure I know any more. Goldsmith, the central figure of the film is also a strange man. Nearly beaten to death by Bokassa and his sons he never the less stayed in contact with the man when he was sent into exile.Its never clear why he would want to stay in touch with a man who nearly killed him on more than one occasion. he comes off as a rather odd duck.(Herzog reads a letter at the start of the film from Goldsmith has gone missing and is believed dead. Actually he survived and died about the time the film was released of a stomach hemorrhage).

To be honest the film bored me. I didn't have clue as to why I was watching this. Yes Herzog's films can be oblique and make you wonder whats going on, but at the same time there is always a hook. There is always some kernel of curiosity that is the way in. Here there simply is Goldsmith and his quest. There is no hook, there is no way in unless you know something about its subject, though having spent sometime on-line trying to find out about Bokassa and Goldsmith I'm not sure I would try the film again., its just not that interesting.
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