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6750: Review: The Hollywood Reporter / Lumumba by R. Peck (fwd)
Subject: THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER REVIEW
A film by Raoul Peck
By David Hunter
PALM SPRINGS -- "Nobody knows what happened that night in Katanga," and so
begins a tremendously important film about the first elected prime minister
of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, who served for mere months in 1960 and was
permanently removed under still-mysterious circumstances 40 years ago
Incredibly, Haitian director Raoul Peck's often brilliant, utterly absorbing
"Lumumba" screened Monday afternoon at the Nortel Palm Springs International
Film Festival in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Virtually at the same moment, Congolese President Laurent Kabila, a Lumumba
follower and controversial strongman, was reported assassinated in what
be a coup and what might escalate a three-year conflict that some have
Africa's first world war.
A Zeitgeist Films release for summer that couldn't possibly be timelier for
educating American audiences about the miserable legacy of European
colonialism and Cold War politics, "Lumumba" is serious and disturbing.
There's a large cast of historical figures, including a chilling portrait of
Mobutu Sese Seko (nee Joseph Mobutu), the general who came to power in a
coup, changed the name of the country to Zaire and was finally overthrown by
the forces of Kabila in 1997.
The film opens with a depiction of Lumumba's ignominious fate -- his body
the corpses of two companions are hacked up and burned by two Belgian
soldiers one windy night far away from any witnesses. With a voice-over of
the French-speaking Lumumba (Eric Ebouaney) from beyond death's door -- the
film's one notable break from a stringently realistic approach -- the nearly
two-hour film skips his early life and begins in earnest when the passionate
activist first becomes a popular leader in Stanleyville (now Kisangani).
The very complex historical events are deftly illuminated given the
potentially huge cast (President Eisenhower, President Kennedy, U.N.
secretary general Dag Hammarksjold, Ernesto "Che" Guevara) and mountains of
material. In the film's accompanying publicity, Peck (who made the
documentary "Lumumba, Death of a Prophet") details how the project evolved,
including early screenplay drafts that worked in the cliche of a white
character to help open up the story to nonethnic audiences.
Thankfully, Peck and co-writer Pascal Bonitzer stay focused on the key
and such relationships as that of Lumumba with the Congo's first president,
Joseph Kasavubu (Maka Kotto), as the two try to hold the country together
against difficult odds. Lumumba and Kasavubu were elected by popular vote in
the large, fractious country rich in natural resources soon after
independence from Belgium. As so horrifically burned in Western conscience
Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," Belgium ruthlessly exploited the Congo
for most of the 80 years it claimed it as a colony (think the city of Los
Angeles ruling over the state of Texas in terms of size difference) and to
this day has close ties with the country.
After imprisonment and torture for organizing opposition, Lumumba is allowed
to attend the conferences in Brussels that made independence a thorny
reality. With a faithful wife (Mariam Kaba) and child who he fatefully
refuses to abandon when his dream of leading a united Congo comes crashing
down, Lumumba becomes the enemy of powerful regional strongmen Godefroid
Munungo (Dieudonne Kabongo) and Moise Tshombe (Pascal Nzonzi).
>From an immediate post-election problem controlling the white officer-led
national armed forces to an inability to keep his enemies from making deals
with the CIA and other outside interests while himself reluctant to turn to
the USSR for aid because he fears for his own life, Lumumba is swiftly and
ruthlessly backed into a corner with no hope of escape. The film pulls no
punches in placing the blame on Kasavubu, Kennedy and Godefroid Munungo
(Dieudonne Kabongo), whose Katanga province is where Lumumba is taken to
after a desperate flight from house arrest in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa).
Despite the presence of new faces in nearly every scene and a flurry of
and places, "Lumumba" rates as one of the most accomplished and vital
historical films to be made in a long time that also succeeds as a fully
engaging moviegoing experience. The performances are outstanding. Ebouaney
dominating, and one comes to completely sympathize with this intelligent,
principled man. Among many stirring highlights is Lumumba's broadcast speech
in Brussels that addressed Belgium's past crimes, though one can feel his
fate being sealed even at this triumphant moment.
In French and Lingala with English subtitles and filmed in Zimbabwe,
Mozambique and Belgium, "Lumumba" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, but
one sorely recommended special engagement is an immediate screening for
incoming diplomats and national-level elected leaders, including Secretary
State nominee Colin Powell and his boss.
Director: Raoul Peck
Screenwriters: Raoul Peck, Pascal Bonitzer
Executive producer: Jacques Bidou
Director of photography: Bernard Lutic
Production designer: Denis Renault
Editor: Jacques Comets
Costume designer: Charlotte David
Music: Jean-Claude Petit
Casting: Sylvie Brochere
Patrice Lumumba: Eriq Ebouaney
Joseph Mobutu: Alex Descas
Maurice Mpolo: Theophile Moussa Sowie
Joseph Kasavubu: Maka Kotto
Godefroid Munungo: Dieudonne Kabongo
Moise Tshombe: Pascal Nzonzi
Pauline Lumumba: Mariam Kaba
Running time -- 115 minutes
No MPAA rating