This is a an alternately fascinating and almost goofy documentary about one man’s search for a lost Guinean film which may have been the first film ever made by an African in French West Africa. I’m pretty sure it’s the first film I’ve seen made by someone from Guinea, explicitly about Guinea. (I have seen at least one Senegalese film which mentions Guinea and may have included some location shooting in Guinea.)
The film opens with Diallo wandering around Guinea on foot, looking for a legendary short film made by a Guinean filmmaker in 1953. This film is clearly made for Guineans as there is very little context provided to us about where Guinea he might be.
What he finds is a whole host of empty, abandoned cinemas (and a film laboratory) full of abandoned film equipment and films. He also discovers that nobody (still alive) seems to have seen this movie, though many people have heard about it.
This part of the film is pretty great. It’s fascinating to see all these old cinemas and learn a little bit about how there was actually a Guinean cinema – fairly early in the history of West African cinema, it seems. Despite the lack of context, it’s a really eye-opening exploration of a world I know nothing about. (Though I was very tempted to make a joke in the theatre about that one time he takes his boom mic off.)
There are some interesting things about the way this part is cut, too. Diallo is rarely in doors. (Even the cinemas are open-air it seems.) Jenn noticed the conscious choice to not show anyone’s phones. The first part of the film feels like it is trying to convey something about the way people used to live.
That being said, there is some weird stuff, notably the weird war short film with children. I don’t really know what that was about. I figure there has been a lot of violence in this country, so I guess this sequence is somehow a commentary on film and violence? I’m really not sure.
Diallo is told the film is likely in France so he goes there. And this is where the film sort of loses me. As Jenn said, it doesn’t make for good storytelling but he could have just sent an email. Instead, he creates a sandwich board and walks around Paris. I think I understand what he is trying to do, and some of the sections in Paris work. But you just know that he could have just contacted the archives, rather than making this political statement. And something about the way he handles it just feels more like performance than like the earnest investigation of the first part of the movie.
SPOILERS I guess:
And then, for the final, brief, act, he remakes the film. He is guessing as to the content and I just don’t really get it. I guess he’s trying to reclaim some lost history here, as well as bringing a traditional story to film, but I don’t know that it works.
For me, the film needed more historical context, about France in Guinea, and film’s role in the time before and after independence. That would have made the movie more edifying for me, rather than him spending the second half wandering around Paris with a sandwich board and completely reinventing the lost film.