08/09/2017

Black And White In Colour - Satire, Poorly Thought Through

Quick Thoughts: Black And White In Colour (La Victoire en Chantant, 1976)


As I was unable to find a film by an Ivorian director, such as Roger Gnoan M’Bala, today we will be looking at a French film shot entirely in the Ivory Coast for Cote d'Ivoire's place in the series.


I'm quite torn on what to think about Jean-Jacques Annaud's Black And White In Colour. I thoroughly enjoyed this film as a satirical black comedy, and it is made quite well, but, its approach to its subject matter was poorly handled.

Black And White In Colour is about a group of quirky French men and women - a geographer, two shopkeepers, a prostitute, an alcoholic, etc. - settled in Cameroon around 1915 as WWI begins. This predominately European conflict of course spread across the globe and, in turn, pushed the Germans who occupied Cameroon (what was then referred to as Kamerun) into conflict with the French, also the Belgians and British as they invaded the region. The result of this was the Germans eventually surrendering and German Kamerun being split into French Cameroun and British Cameroon. Cameroon would only gain independence 15 years before this movie's release in 1976.

As the settlers first learn of WWI and this conflict with the Germans develops, Black And White In Colour chooses to ridicule the French settlers - and this is done quite amusingly - before skipping through the training and the battles that, of course, involved the exploitation of native Cameroonians. For a film that has an ultimate point that is anti-war and critical of colonialism, Black And White In Colour sheds no sympathy at all for, nor does it even propose a substantial thought towards, the natives. In such, the manipulation, pain, death, torture and enslavement that the Cameroonians and other regional Africans faced is only ever briefly referenced, and characters spend almost no time thinking about this, whilst jokes are made about an idiotic shopkeeper slapping his native servants. There are a few hints of racial commentary with a mixed race relationship developing between a Frenchman and a native woman, but this is entirely overshadowed by the fact that this is a dark comedy and a war film. What's more, this film's resolution concerns the Germans and the French sides befriending one another whilst the natives look on at their absurd celebrations with exasperation (which is the only emotion that the native characters are really given). So, whilst the French are ridiculed throughout, if the point of this film was to comment on colonialism and war, then this is a huge failure, one that very lightly utilises and references history.

So, whilst I enjoyed this film, its decision to utilise real-world history is its biggest flaw and, ultimately, something that this story really didn't need. If this was a more ambiguous story with a somewhat anonymous context, and so akin to Africa Paradis or The Gods Must Be Crazy, in turn, clearly a speculative film primarily for entertainment's value, then this film's merits would shine through. However, as it is, this is a fun movie that wasn't thought out very well at all.

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