Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Raoul Peck
Stars: Eriq Ebouaney
From the Oliver Stone paranoid conspiracy theory school of film making comes this Ghandi-wannabe biopic depicting the rise to power and fall from grace of Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the Congo after achieving independence from the yoke of Belgian colonialism. But this low budget biopic is a little muddled, and lacks Stone’s polemic style and frenetic style.
Belgium had been granted control of the Congo region a century earlier, but by the 1950’s the region, like most of colonially occupied Africa, was clamouring for independence. Caught up in the nationalist fervour was Lumumba (played with authority by Eriq Ebouaney), a beer salesman and self-taught nationalist who also has a strong interest in politics.
Joining the Congolese Nationalist Movement, Lumumba represented his party at talks aimed at eventually granting Congo its independence. Lumumba became the nation’s first Prime Minister following the elections of 1960, but lasted only a few short months before he was assassinated. His outspoken manner and unwillingness to forgive the colonial masters of the past for their treatment of the Africans made him some very powerful enemies, both within his country and outside. The Congo was also torn apart by mutinies within the army, political turmoil, and the secession of the neighbouring mineral rich province of Katanga, which was hostile towards the ruling party.
Lumumba implicates the CIA and other foreign nationals in his execution. The film opens with the grisly execution of Lumumba and two colleagues, and then proceeds in flashback to tell the story of his rise to power. Writer/director Raoul Peck is obviously fascinated with this tumultuous era of African politics as he has previously made a documentary on Lumumba and his short-lived reign. His research is thorough, but unfortunately his film takes for granted that the audience has a knowledge of African history and politics. The internecine power struggles, backroom deals and political power plays are a little confusing for the uninitiated, and sometimes the sprawling cast of characters and their role in events becomes a little overwhelming.
The film offers little insight into Lumumba’s background or what makes him tick, and ultimately tends to paint a rather too flattering portrait of him as an honest man caught up in events beyond his control or understanding. Ebouaney (When The Cats Away, etc) has a commanding and charismatic presence as Lumumba, and brings the character to life.
Lumumba is fascinating stuff, but a little flawed in its execution (pardon the pun!), and ultimately holds little interest for audiences beyond those who have an interest in African politics.