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This article Jack Florek was prepared for the October 17, 2001

edition

of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Film

With the continually unfolding tragedies in the United

States and Afghanistan, it is easy to become skittish and wonder what

other global catastrophes might be in our future.

British prime minister Tony Blair, in an October 2 speech to his

Labour

Party’s conference, referenced "the blight that is the continuing

conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 3 million

people have died through war or famine in the last decade." He

then added: "The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of

the world. But if the world as a community focused on it, we could

heal it. And if we don’t, it will become deeper and angrier."

Raoul Peck’s new film "Lumumba" steps back 40 years in time

to tell the story of Congo and its leader Patrice Lumumba, a legendary

freedom fighter and visionary who rose rapidly to the office of prime

minister when Belgium conceded the Congo’s independence in 1960.

Lumumba’s vision of a united Africa gained him powerful enemies,

including

Belgian authorities who attempted to maintain a controlling role over

the affairs of their former colony, as well as the CIA who sought

to protect U.S. business interests in Congo’s vast resources and claim

an upper hand in the Cold War. The film documents Lumumba’s rise to

power, and ultimate demise.

"Lumumba" will be shown as a part of the New Jersey Film

Festival,

Friday to Sunday, October 19 to 21, at Scott Hall 123 on the Rutgers’

College Avenue campus. All three screenings begin at 7 PM.

A viewer warning: the opening scene of "Lumumba" is not for

the squeamish. It offers a sickening depiction of its hero’s corpse

being dismembered by two men wielding saws and axes, who then casually

toss the body parts into a nearby fire. It is hard to imagine a more

grisly introduction.

Fortunately, after this shock, the film settles down, outlining

Lumumba’s

career in fairly straightforward fashion. We watch his rise to power

as a member of the Congolese National Movement (MNC), his brash

leadership

style that earns him a central role as prime minister in the Congolese

government, and his difficulty in dealing with an uncooperative

military

while fending off his enemies as he struggles to make his vision of

unification a reality.

"Lumumba" is Raoul Peck’s eighth film. He previously made

the 1991 prize-winning documentary, "Lumumba: Death of a

Prophet."

Although the historical accuracy of this latest film has come under

dispute (not surprising given the politics of the time), Peck has

maintained that he has tried to stick as close to the raw facts as

possible "This film is not an `adaptation,’ it aims to be a true

story," he has said. "I want to extract the cinematic

narrative

from the reality by remaining as true to the facts as possible."

Part of the difficulty with "Lumumba" is that it attempts

to negotiate a middle ground between documentary and drama, and

largely

fails. Peck tries to depict sweeping historical movements in

bite-size,

easily digestible chunks, but in so doing he loses much of the human

element of his subject.

Consequently, Patrice Lumumba comes off here as a thin, cardboard

personality, only vibrantly alive in the heat of political battle.

He has no depth; he never questions himself, nor does he ever laugh

at himself. Peck’s scant attempts to personalize this complex man

ring hollow. Brief scenes in which we find Lumumba with a little girl

on his lap calling him "papa" or with a woman whom we discover

is his wife suddenly telling him he’s "working too hard" are

manipulative, the sort of techniques used in bad TV movies.

The acting, on the other hand, is outstanding. Eriq Ebouaney as

Lumumba

packs more human depth into a single gaze than the rest of the film

combined. This is particularly true when he is engaged in political

battle, such as the moments prior to delivering a controversial speech

just after Congo is proclaimed its independence. Alex Descas’

performance

as the duplicitous Joseph Mobutu is less nuanced, but effectively

streamlined, as is Pascal Nzonzi in his role as Moise Tshombe,

president

of the secessionist African state of Katanga.

But "Lumumba" is a tough film to watch. Because it is so easy

to sympathize with the political struggles of its hero, one finds

oneself wanting to like it. But Peck’s weak script doesn’t offer much

in the way of real drama or entertainment. It’s just one event

succeeding

another, and we, the viewers, and its hero, are just swept along.

— Jack Florek

New Jersey Film Festival screenings are Fridays through

Sunday in Scott Hall, Room 123, College Avenue campus, near the corner

of College Avenue and Hamilton Street. Thursday screenings are in

Loree Hall, Room 024, Douglass College campus, near the corner of

Nichol Avenue and George Street. Admission $5; programs begin at 7

p.m. Call 732-932-8482 or www.njfilmfest.com

Lumumba, Eriq Ebouamey plays African freedom fighter

Patrice

Lumumba, October 19 to 21. W.I.S.O.R., set in underground New

York City, Wednesday, October 24. Creature from the Black

Lagoon,

October 26 to 28.


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