Monday, April 09, 2007

Quartier Mozart

1992, Cameroon/France, directed by Jean-Pierre Bekolo

Jean-Pierre Bekolo's Quartier Mozart is one of the most challenging of contemporary African films, with a splintered narrative that recalls most obviously Djibril Diop Mambéty's 1973 film Touki-Bouki (Bekolo has cited Mambéty as his key influence amongst filmmakers from Africa), though Bekolo also draws explicitly on Cameroonian folk talkes, which are used to tell the story of the eponymous city neighbourhood. The film announces itself in terms quite different to those of most films from Africa, opening with a witty sequence in which the key characters introduce themselves direct to camera; Chien Méchant/Mad Dog (Jimmy Biyong) makes a particularly funny entrance, the camera swooping around him, the whole segment recalling the playful opening sections of Tom Tywker's (subsequent) Run Lola Run with its rapid-fire rhythm and wit.

The rest of the film doesn't consistently sustain the energy of the opening scenes, with even the attentive viewer likely to find some of the narrative progress confusing (hardly surprising, given that the film partly concerns a young girl who enters the body of a man, while the witch who assists her then assumes male form), but Bekolo cites films from all traditions - from Touki-Bouki to The Terminator - with a verve that marks him as a uniquely idiosyncratic filmmaker. He is also blessed with several extremely funny performances, including the aforementioned Jimmy Biyong and Essindi Mindja as Atango, who claims to be a Sorbonne-educated ladies' man.

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