Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lumumba: la mort du prophète

1992, France/Switzerland, directed by Raoul Peck

The title of Raoul Peck's documentary film announces the fact that it does not attempt to provide an objective portrait of its subject (the film is certainly not a reliable primer on the Congo c. 1960-1962 without other complements), but functions rather as a personal memoir on the meaning of Lumumba's brief time in power, and also as a reflection on what it is like to be close to historical events. More controversially, Peck indicts present-day Belgium and Belgians, whose prosperity is, in ways visible and invisible, inextricably linked with the history of its huge African colony.

Peck's filmmaking strategies recall both Jean-Marie Teno and David Achkar, both of whom blend a variety of sources - newsreels, interviews, poetry, home movies - to powerful effect; Peck combines Teno's broader polemical thrust with Achkar's evocation of a very personal series of events (Peck spent much of his childhood in Congo, where his parents worked, though he himself did not arrive from Haiti until after Lumumba's death). The film's main weakness is the paucity of African testimonies to balance the sometimes unreliable - and almost always tendentious - Europeans who are interviewed; while the lack of equilibrium is partly a function of Peck's decision (for reasons of personal safety) not to travel to Kinshasa, little use is made of the overseas Congolese community.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States