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Orality in the City: Mweze Ngangura's La Vie est belle and Raoul Peck's Lumumba: La Mort du prophète1 Jeanne Garane IN A GREAT NUMBER OF AFRICAN FILMS of the past 30 years, the African metropolis is the place where oppositions between tradition and modernity are juxtaposed and examined, but where the "dichotomy of existence permeating modem African history"2 continues unresolved. In fact, as V. Y. Mudimbe writes, it is because of colonization itself that "a dichotomizing system has emerged, and with it a great number of current paradigmatic oppositions... ."3 Examples of these include orality versus literacy and the village as traditional space versus the city as the site of modernity. In response to, or as evidence of, these dichotomies, a number of African filmmakers have combined traditional forms of oral communication with cinema's "technological means of image production" (Ukadike 167) in finding a style that characterizes the specificity of African cinema. In 1985 Gaston Kaboré declared that African filmmakers would have to find an "authentic inner self in order to discover a cinematic language that could "reflect African history and civilization."4 The rich body of African oral and written literature has consequently become the source from which "to borrow narrative devices" and "take lessons on African history and culture" (199). Similarly, filmmakers and critics of the African diaspora have been engaged in defining an esthetics of diasporic black film. In this endeavor, Gladstone Yearwood has argued that this aesthetics incorporates elements from the folk collective, such as music, religion, proverbs, and folk tales. Like his African counterparts, Yearwood finds the roots of an independent black diasporic film aesthetic in "the influence of orality and performative elements " in "black cultural tradition."5 While Yearwood's focus is primarily on African-American cinema, Mbaye Cham makes a similar argument in his introduction to Ex-iles. Essays on Caribbean Cinema, citing "the Caribbean heritage of oral traditions" as the basis of a "project to construct a new, more authentic, sense of identity" in an emerging Caribbean cinema.6 While the concems of African films may differ from those of the African diaspora because of different historical and geographical contexts,7 they can nevertheless share a similar sensibility, united by an esthetics of orality,8 rooted in a real or mythic mral space. Vol. XLI, No. 3 151 L'Esprit Créateur In this context, I examine two films, Congolese Mweze Ngangura's comedy, La Vie est belle, and Haitian Raoul Peck's documentary, Lumumba: La Mort du prophète. While opposed stylistically, they both use Kinshasa, the capital of the former Zaïre, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, to stage a critique of colonialist and neo-colonialist politics. But rather than serving as a simple backdrop for this critique, in La Vie est belle, Kinshasa's divided urban geography exemplifies the inequities of race and class divisions remaining from the colonial period and maintained by Mobutu Sésé-Séko.9 While Lumumba also treats these inequities, Peck's film "points the finger" at the métropole, Brussels, and at its inhabitants, for it was there that Lumumba's assassination was orchestrated. Although both films take place in a post-colonial city where "modernity" may be expected to overshadow "orality," they both foreground elements from an oral tradition, not only in the diegesis, but formally as well. Popular culture in La Vie est belle shares much with orality, while Peck's film imprints conventional documentary form with an AfroHaitian sensibility, itself rooted in the oral tradition. Given the fact that "the ethnocentrism of European and American film critics has limited them to evaluating African cinema through the prism of Western film language,"10 an analysis of "orality" in La Vie est belle and Lumumba demonstrates the ways in which the two films challenge both Euro-centric views of African history and culture, and Euro-centered ways of viewing them. In Kinshasa, La Vie est belle—While pre-colonial cities in sub-Saharan Africa developed out of a logic indigenous to the societies that created them, cities created under European colonization were built under a capitalist imperative that demanded the easy export of crops and raw...


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