Film Africa loves feedback. It helps us to strive to be better as a festival. It gives us direction to help bring you the best in African cinema. Film Africa loves it even more when the feedback shares the same love for the films we programme. So here’s what an audience member – Kirsty Ayakwah who attended last night’s London Premiere of N: THE MADNESS OF REASON thought of the film:
N: The Reason Of Madness – a docu-drama co-produced by Peter Krüger and award-winning Nigerian writer Ben Okri – left me suspended between discomfort and awe.
Discomfort because such scenes as a woman performing fellatio on a man; the ritualistic slaughter of an ox and the display of bare-chested women jumping – if filmed in the UK – would most probably be censored.
And yet, in this 102-minute film these real and at times graphic scenes were interwoven in between absolutely exquisite images of Africa. The solitary caterpillar, the colourful butterflies housed among acres of forest, the booming ocean waves and most of all the myriad of faces.
The film is complex but the premise so simple. The story unfolds telling the tale of a Frenchman man who leaves the turmoil of Europe in the 1920s in search of adventure and falls in love with and ends up spending 40 years of his life in the west of Africa.
We see Raymond Borremans alive but on the verge of death. But in death, he is much more alive. We follow his journey sweeping through a multitude of scenes as he recounts his life – albeit through rose-tinted glasses – and see his old haunts, commune with his friends and watch him have to seek the help of strangers.
Following Borremans as he returns to a derelict train carriage, listens to a makeshift band play and repeatedly visit the ruins of his home read like a sad show reel of his life as it flashes before him shortly before death.
Borremans compiles encyclopedias – someone obsessed by categorisation and order and yet during the film these very foundations are rocked by a central female character in the film that refuses to let him categorise her. Despite his requests, she never reveals her name.
Ben Okri said after the film that the 102-minute piece was about exploring legacy and those inadequacies that we sometimes feel when we reach a certain age and question what we have achieved.
Borremans embodies this as he watches his incomplete body of encyclopedic work sold on the street in a market not dissimilar to Makola in Accra, Ghana. His death meant that only encyclopaedias between the letters A and M were produced, which Borremans equates to building an unfinished house – what use is it – he asks?
Unable to pass on fully after death, he revisits old places searching for direction until he realises that he should finish what he started, which he can only achieve through assistance from the living. And it is along the way that he wakes up to some truths about his romanticised vision of Africa, which forces us the viewer to also digest along the way.
The film is based on reality – too much in my view. The macheted bodies strewn across fields are real and record the deaths of too many civilians murdered during one of Cote D’Ivorie’s civil war. Borremans was real too and came from a family of encyclopaedists. Even the actors in the film are – for the most part – everyday people that Krüger enlisted to help give the film a veneer of authenticity.
For me, the biggest draw of the film has to be how seemingly arbitrary elements are fashioned together in such a cohesive manner. I would never have believed that the images were sewn together seven year before Okri wrote the script, but Okri tells us it is true.
And my biggest revelation came from a scene tucked in the middle of the film in which one elderly man tells another that the act of putting pen to paper when telling a story is in itself limiting. Naturally, it excludes and forces us to take a linear approach to self expression. If I write that I am Hutu – it therefore suggests that I am not Tutsi, the man says in the film.
And since Africans have a strong and well embedded belief in oral tradition that serves to preserve stories without using the written form, I would urge you not to take my linear words for it but watch the film for yourself.
Thank you Kirsty. Succint and beautifully written. To read more of Kirsty’s work: