In the film we follow the work of a German doctor, Ebbo Velten, working for an international fund in Cameroon in charge of fighting the malaria epidemic (often referred to in the film as "sleeping sickness" although both are different illnesses), during two different time lapses. In the first we see him after five years of work, ready to wrap up his stay and return to Germany, but then he's approached by a sleazy Frenchman with an unknown business proposition. Next we're thrown three years forward, now following Alex Nzila, a Congo-descendant French doctor who's come to Cameroon to make a report on Velten's work, yet he finds it near-impossible to get a hold of him, and the facilities practically abandoned and rudimentarily equipped, yet the epidemic has also been incredibly slowed.
What's interesting about this film is that it refuses to be seen as a criticism or essay on any particular third-world problematic, but rather treats many different problems belonging to these environments as well as their relationship with the first world as a single interweaving set of elements that cannot be analyzed without the rest. Thus it creates very complex views of the political system, of the relations with many of these NGOs, of how we see on one hand the dependence of these departments in international help while on the other how the people involved turn these acts of charity into a profitable project, while we have a third hand, and fourth and fifth, that tell us of the battles between idealism and discourse both on an outward, man-to-man level as on an personal one, the justifications of the necessity of international intervention, and how it is openly represented here the shortcomings of economic liberalism through the ever-expanding financial gap between classes, all the while being at the surface a character study instead of an openly political film. On the same manner the film keeps a back-and-forth defense of opposite stands on each subject, each character here is presented with their own set of dualities and ambiguity - Ebbo Velten, for example, is often seen as an idealistic man who's in love with the country and the culture surrounding him, yet simultaneously is often grumpy, has a general disdain to the people due to how he sees them progressively turning into a freeloading society, and finds himself involved in possibly illicit activities just as an excuse to keep on living and working in this country. He's a character who seems to be constantly and rapidly switching gears, thus completely breaking whatever conception or stereotype we try to adhere to him.
Despite the fact that many of these elements may seem like they could lead to a very sermonizing, sententious and heavy-handed experience, these are all elements that are not only left in grey space but are also there only if you care to look for them. It's because of the complexity of each character and each situation that the film is constantly leaving a lot of space with which to form your own interpretation and believe what one is saying or doing, or not. It's precisely because of the level of detail throughout that some less developed elements seem out of place in this context. Such is the case of the aforementioned "sleazy Frenchman", who is indeed just a cardboard stereotype, grinning slyly at everyone while trying to convince them of some idea he has through detestable means like sharing hookers and similar maneuvers. Some sequences involving Alex Nzila's arrival to Cameroon also seem somewhat far-fetched and almost ruin the otherwise quite believable and naturalistic portrayal of the country.
The ending is also utterly superb, very cryptic and almost metaphysical in a sense, but to tell it would be to ruin the experience. It is also why it makes me so reluctant to refer to this film as straight-up realistic - much like its protagonist, the film shifts back and forth between points of view, themes, moods, and focalizations that it's hard to define as a whole. In this sense the film it most reminds me of is The Profound Desire Of The Gods, though naturally not on that level of magnificence. Nevertheless, it is one really intriguing, really memorable film. Heartily recommended.