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BERLINALE 2021 Forum

Review: Just A Movement

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- BERLINALE 2021: Belgium’s Vincent Meessen offers up a circular, hybrid film which hovers between documentary and filmed essay

Review: Just A Movement

Just A Movement [+see also:
trailer
interview: Vincent Meessen
film profile
]
, presented this week in the Berlinale’s Forum section, ponders two legends who stand opposed, who merge but who also diverge: Omar Blondin Diop, a Senegalese activist, intellectual and shooting star who disappeared far too soon from the skies of the post-May 1968 and post-Independence era, and the films “in the making” of Jean-Luc Godard, particularly La Chinoise, in which Omar Blondin Diop appeared, playing himself.

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By way of this cinematic gesture which oscillates and flows between a documentary and a filmed essay, Vincent Meessen - a Belgian contemporary artist whose video work is exhibited all over the world - examines past and modern-day Senegal, as well as the power of collusion between political and artistic thought.

The film opens with a mise en abyme, a film within the film itself, following the path trodden by La Chinoise in Nanterre and projecting the explorations and the legacy of the movie onto modern-day Dakar. By way of opposing screens, two tutelary figures express themselves in turn: Godard, an anti-establishment filmmaker, and Omar Blondin Diop, an idol for several generations of Senegalese youngsters, a thinker and a free spirit. But whilst the figure of Godard has been subject to a fair share of critical interpretation, that of Blondin Diop remains comparatively fluid.

Indeed, the idea, in this instance, isn’t to paint a faithful, definitive portrait, and - as testified by one of Blondin Diop’s loved ones - it certainly isn’t about trapping him within the figure of a martyr or sweeping him into a category which might result in obsoletion, but rather to paint an implicit portrait and to examine his ghostly yet inspiring presence in Senegal today.

Punctuated with extracts from La Chinoise, different protagonists piece the story together in turn. The assistant director walks through the town, scouting locations for future film shoots – shoots which are finally in the making. A young Chinese worker follows in Omar Blondin Diop’s footsteps in Gorée, in the prison where he died, which is now a museum. A Senegalese Shaolin master tries to find the right movement. A young Senegalese intellectual delivers a talk in Chinese on Godard’s film. The Chinese Vice-President visits the brand-new Museum of Black Civilisations, created by Senghor and funded by China. Everyone plays or re-enacts their own role.

These historical acts or re-enactments are interspersed with interviews - which purposefully avoid filming their participants face-on - with Omar Blondin Diop’s companions, his brothers and his friends, those who were familiar with his ebullient mind and the prison tragedy. Their gaze into the distance seems to summon a ghost, the memory of their friend and brother.

Today, his family are fighting to re-open the enquiry, to seek out the truth. It’s an unavoidably multifaceted truth, embodied in the discourse of his loved ones, but which first and foremost rebounds between the past and the present, resonating in an echo chamber where the rejection of imperialism that was advocated by Blondin Diop clashes with the not-so-subtle neo-imperialism embarked upon by China, a country which uses the soft powers of education and culture to get a firm foothold in Senegal’s present and its future, notably interfering in the commemoratory work for the re-appropriation of history, a tendency which is analysed in the film by Senegalese intellectual Felwine Sarr.

Because this is what the film also reveals: the history of thought as if it were in the process of being written, its versatility and its capacity to mutate, and the ongoing dialogue between intellectuals of the past, the present and the future.

Just A Movement is produced by Thank You & Good Night Productions in co-production with Jubilee (Belgium), the CBA (Brussels Audiovisual Centre - Belgium), Spectre Productions (France) and Magellan Films (Belgium).

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(Translated from French)

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