Monday, April 30, 2012

From Africa

This past week I saw two films featuring characters who were Senegalese immigrants living in Western countries.  The first of these was the French dramedy The Intouchables (which I have been lead to believe by a Google search means “Untouchable” in French).  Based on a true story, the film is about Philippe, a wealthy man who is paralyzed from the neck down, and the friendship he forms with Driss (short for Idriss), a Senegalese immigrant from the projects who Philippe hires as his caretaker.  When I tell you that I smiled from the beginning of this movie to the very end, I am not in the least bit exaggerating.  While the film could have been rife with pat racial stereotypes and tropes, the it actually comes off as heartwarming and genuine without being preachy, formulaic, or too paternalistic.  (Well, there was one scene where Driss got the white folks to dance, but who wouldn’t get down to Earth, Wind & Fire?).  I think the heart of the movie is captured best when Philippe is confronted by a friend who tells him that Driss was once in prison and Phillippe says he doesn’t care because Driss treats him without pity.  And that’s the mark of a true friendship, someone taking you at face value and being willing to give as much as take.  Omar Sy, who plays Driss has a certain presence on film that’s hard to ignore and he has a real chemistry with Francois Cluzet who plays Phillippe.  I was overwhelmed with joie de vivre.  Be sure to look for The Intouchables when it arrives at a theater near you.
The second film I saw was Restless City.  I went to see it because it is the latest release from AFFRM, the African Film Festival Releasing Movement, an organization dedicated to promoting independent black cinema.  Restless City tells the story of 21 year-old Djibril, a Senegalese immigrant who is trying to carve out a life for himself in New York City.  The film is visually stunning as the filmmakers played with color, film speeds, reflections, and close-up shots that felt like moving portraits.  Unfortunately, the story was not very good.  Primarily centered on Djibril’s and his love interest’s interactions with a local thug, the plot was weak on character development and some subplots were left unresolved or unexplained.  The experience for me highlighted the fact that good writing is as important as strong visuals in filmmaking.   I was disappointed.  Restless City is now playing in selected cities.

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