Friday, April 06, 2007


1996, Cameroon/France/Germany, directed by Jean-Marie Teno

Primarily known as a documentarist - or perhaps more accurately as an essayist - Jean-Marie Teno turned to feature film with Clando, and he shows considerable confidence with the fictional medium, integrating his documentarist's eye with a story inspired by the experiences of too many Cameroonians, both in their home country and in Europe. Sobgui, a young professional, is imprisoned and tortured after being involved with the fringes of political opposition, and subsequently, having lost everything from his old life, takes up work as a 'clando', an illegal cab driver, before leaving for Germany on twin missions from his employer, who asks Sobgui to buy some cars and locate the older man's estranged son.

It's a fraught journey that quickly disabuses Sobgui of any illusions he may have had concerning Europe as an economic or social paradise, and forces him to confront the dilemmas and difficulties of the outsider, who is often driven as much by expectations back home as by any personal notivations (the meeting with the estranged son is both poignant and distressing, as we discover the reasons for his refusal to return to Cameroon). Teno's criticisms of Western intervention in Africa are couched in different terms here than in his documentary work - and lack the sometimes strident tone that can weaken his arguments - as he implicitly condemns naive European human rights workers who feel comfortable telling Sobgui how he should behave (while they are also unable to move beyond seeing him as a rather exotic representative of suffering). Teno structures the film with a series of flashbacks, peeling back the layers of Sobgui's life after he has already departed for Germany, and it's an effective strategy that allows the director to contrast the character's present and past.

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