November 2, 2000

Cornell Cinema

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Lights, camera, action. A filmmaker is in a Chadian marketplace filming a few African merchants who are conversing. One of the men becomes enraged by this seemingly intrusive behavior. In a moment, the man flails at the camera violently. The next shot shows the filmmaker grasping his bloody eye as the angry merchant screams about the filmmaker’s insolence for trying to film him and stealing his image.

For the docu-drama, Bye-Bye Africa, based on the story of a Chadian film director who returns home upon the death of his mother and discovers a local film culture in decline, this is impacting. As James Hillman states in his book Revisioning Psychology, “Our complexes are not only wounds that hurt and mouths that tell our myths, but also eyes that see what the normal and healthy parts cannot envision … The wound and the eye are one and the same.”

This one shot of Haroun with his wounded shooting eye illustrates this point poetically and perfectly.

Haroun, whom the plot revolves around, is a mound of wounds by the time the film is over. It is through these afflictions that we see his world and his plight.

They control his vision, and therefore our vision of the cultural crisis in which the country of Chad is sorrowfully immersed. The audience witnesses the world through his pain and crisis, creating an exceedingly personal and disturbing film.

Whether it is the death of his mother, who he has not seen for ten years, his exile to France, his responsibility as a single-parent, the suicide of his ex-lover, or the decay of Chadian cinema, Haroun bears a large and deep gouge through which to view his experience of returning to his homeland. Through impeccable craftsmanship, a rich assortment of shots, and an interactive method of filming, Haroun takes the viewer on a psychological and sociological tour of Chad.

The film serves as Haroun’s entreaty for the audience to see what he sees, feel what he feels, and awaken like he is awakening. Through the use of defamiliarizing close-ups of the faces of those whom he meets, the viewer feels like the camera is a mystical instrument that sees into the soul. “The soul sees by means of affliction,” writes Hillman, and the viewer sees the soul through the lens of the afflicted.

This filmic device causes Haroun’s subjects to seem strange. They seem dangerously and uncomfortably close to the observer, as if the observer is inside of them in a place that has prior to been unheard of and unseen. These shots create a remarkably intimate experience that exceeds the normal voyeuristic experience of films and transcends into a close encounter.

Impressively, this close encounter is not only with the strangely beautiful subjects of Haroun’s close-ups, but with Haroun himself. The audience is not only drawn inside the souls of these people; they are consequently drawn into the soul of the filmmaker. The viewer sees the people, events, and landscape of the film through the eyes of Haroun.

Without our knowledge, we find ourselves inside his head, inside his pathology, inside his soul. It is an unnervingly intimate experience, but also subtly brilliant because of its effortless capacity to humanize through a mechanical medium.

Cinematically, Bye-Bye Africa is a praiseworthy piece that commendably represents the art of film. While effectual as a noteworthy example of cinema, the very same characteristic that makes it brilliant also makes it difficult for a non-aficionado to grasp and digest.

It is a rough serving of cinematic technique and an exploration of the ontology of the medium for the average moviegoer’s digestive tract to handle. There is a decent possibility that Bye-Bye Africa would successfully entertain, but its message may be too oriented to the nature and craftsmanship of filmmaking for the everyday viewer.

Archived article by Laura Thomas