Schlafkrankheit (2011) Poster

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Swallowed inland.
algroth_14 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Of what I saw in the 2011 edition of BAFICI, this was the most gratifying surprise, at least regarding the films themselves. I saw some films in the festival I'd place above it, but they were films I was already expecting great things from, unlike this which I had not heard much of at all.

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.
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Forgettable culture clash film Warning: Spoilers
"Schlafkrankheit" is a 2011 film about a family of White people working as development workers in Africa. They run into exotic illnesses, but also into everyday problems in normal life just like we do. It's written and directed by Ulrich Kühler who included some autobiographical events from his childhood here. The lead actor is Pierre Bokma and as he is French just like most of the other cast members, the main language here is French.

I was never really entertained watching this film. It's not bad by any means, but I am a bit surprised these 90 minutes received quite a few accolades, for example with the German Film Critics Circle or at the Berlin Film Festival. As a whole, I would not recommend this movie. There are many other German and French films out there which are more worth the watch.
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For true Africa lovers
jppignol31 March 2012
This is one of the best movie ever made on Africa. There is a lot of the personal experience of the author, but the subtle is elsewhere. On the first degree the viewer should just let himself dive into the African landscape. This is the true Africa. Nothing in common with the Hollywoodian and fake landscape of Blood Diamond. On the second degree the movie is mute. No strong sentence, scarce references (the scene on the structural adjustment defended by a IMF specialist) and as it seems very diluted story. I found the beauty of the movie to be at a higher level. This is a story about the root of misunderstanding between Europe and Africa. A European character become a 'real' African, a 'fou d'Afrique", completely misunderstood by a French of African ascent. The movie is about the culture clash which has nothing to do with the colour of the skin. You should look at the movie with this in mind. Absolutely brilliant!
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Africa from a different angle...
Reno Rangan10 July 2013
It is an art movie. Africa, the first thing pop out into our mind is jungles and wild animals. Whole story takes place in different remote areas of an African country, Cameroon. Where European doctors sent to treat the people who are suffering from sleeping sickness.

Lot like the story divides into two episodes, one was about the European doctors and their life style far from home and their relationship with family and people around them. The second one shows the beauty of the true Africas natural environment. There is a tiny twist at the end like a commercial movies. This movie is not for everyone but definitely feel good movie!
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Dull, lethargic, superficial flick with lots of artsy pretensions
Viator Veritatis7 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Like so many European (especially German) movies produced in the last few years, this one adopts a minimalistic approach leading the director to tell his story in the flattest and most superficial way possible. Instead of exploring the characters' personalities and the movie's topic - the misguided projects set up by Western institutions to relieve destitute Negro populations - the film lingers forever on the characters' everyday routine, with no powerful situation or strong dialog, scarce references and an extremely diluted story. The outcome is one and a half hour of meaninglessness and boredom.

Behind the intentional refusal of letting anything of interest happen, or explaining anything, there probably rests the idea of encouraging the proactive viewer to form his own judgment. While I like forming independent thoughts, I see no reason why a movie, or any form of artistic expression, should restrain itself to such extremes of tediousness, or communicate with the public with only vague hints and half-formed suggestions set on a background of drabbest quotidianity. Yet, that's probably what the enthralled critics and a snotty, stuck-up public like in this garbage: its very indeterminateness allows them to weave their webs of interpretations with absolute freedom -- to bloviate endlessly with no fear of denial or contradiction.

Which is what art finally stands for: an everlasting flood of words.

The only remarkable thing in this half-baked mush is the well-drawn comparison between the efficient, morally-conscious European way of life and the drowsy, slothful African attitude -- perfectly mirrored in the change occurring to the main character between the first and the second part of the movie. However, the director's decision of choosing a Negro actor in the role of the doctor who travels to Africa to evaluate the local situation shrinks the comparison to the level of mere cultural relations and is rooted in anti-Racist bigotry.

In the end, 'Sleeping sickness' is quite artsy and fashionable, and for these very reasons it is a terrible, truly uninteresting movie.
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