Corrections or additions?
This article Jack Florek was prepared for the October 17, 2001
of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
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
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,
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
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
Fortunately, after this shock, the film settles down, outlining
career in fairly straightforward fashion. We watch his rise to power
as a member of the Congolese National Movement (MNC), his brash
style that earns him a central role as prime minister in the Congolese
government, and his difficulty in dealing with an uncooperative
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
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
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
fails. Peck tries to depict sweeping historical movements in
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
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’
as the duplicitous Joseph Mobutu is less nuanced, but effectively
streamlined, as is Pascal Nzonzi in his role as Moise Tshombe,
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
another, and we, the viewers, and its hero, are just swept along.
— Jack Florek
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, October 19 to 21. W.I.S.O.R.
York City, Wednesday, October 24. Creature from the Black
October 26 to 28.
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