Raoul Peck's Lumumba and Lumumba: La Mort Du Prophète: On Cultural Amnesia and Historical Erasure

By Barr, Burlin | African Studies Review, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Raoul Peck's Lumumba and Lumumba: La Mort Du Prophète: On Cultural Amnesia and Historical Erasure


Barr, Burlin, African Studies Review


Abstract:

This article examines two films by Raoul Peck-Lumumba: La mort du prophète (1992) and Lumumba (2000) that offer vastly divergent methods for remembering, memorializing, and meditating on the life and death of Patrice Lumumba. Peck succeeds in creating films that do more than preserve or resuscitate a historical record. The earlier film in particular performs analytic historical work as it delves into the conflicted historical record in which Lumumba is remembered. Peck uses an experimental and confrontational approach to reveal the ongoing forms of cultural censorship that have attempted to erase Lumumba and his legacy.

Résumé: Cet essai examine deux films de Raoul Peck - Lumumba: La mort duprophète (1992) et Lumumba (2000) qui offrent deux méthodes complètement différentes pour remémorer, commémorer, et méditer sur, la vie de Patrice Lumumba. Peck réussit à créer des films qui font plus que préserver ou ressusciter un document historique. Le film antérieur en particulier met en scène un travail d'analyse historique tout en se plongeant dans les archives conflictuelles exposant les souvenir de Lumumba. Peck utilise une approche expérimentale et de confrontation pour révéler les formes de censure culturelle ayant tenté d'effacer Lumumba et son héritage.

"There are many ways to kill something."

- from Lumumba, La mort du prophète

Raoul Peck's two films on Patrice Lumumba, considered together, offer a compelling study on the intersection of documentary film form, political filmmaking, and the representation of historical events. Both films deal with the traumas and the multiple, layered forms of forgetting and erasure that mark Lumumba's historical place as the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The earlier film (and the main focus of this article), Lumumba: La mort du prophète Lumumba, Death of a Prophet), was released in 1992 and recounts the overlapping personal and political events surrounding the early years of the filmmaker's life, which coincided with Lumumba's election in June 1960, his arrest, and his murder in January 1961. The film is exceptional in the way that it brings together autobiographical and historical materials - as it draws on highly personal materials (family photos, super 8 films, anecdotes) and looks at these alongside expert testimony and archival information from the period. With this combination the film calls attention to multiple ways of witnessing, experiencing, and studying a historical moment.

To facilitate this juxtaposition, the film employs a fascinating and unconventional cinematic aesthetics. Using an open form (many would call it experimental) that resists closure and simple cause-and-effect scenarios, and offering numerous examples of self-reflexivity, the film calls attention to historical processes rather than historical certainties. It reflects on the process of delving into the contested historical record surrounding Lumumba, rather than treating it as stable historical tableau with a clear sequence. Working hand-in-hand with the open form and self-reflexive moments are a number of other aesthetic choices, including (1) blank screen images, (2) highly figurative images that resist literal readings, (3) images that call attention to the position of the camera, and (4) striking combinations of voice and image (combinations that emphasize a gap between voice and image rather than a simple redundancy in which image and sound confirm one another). The overall effect of Peck's methodology (the cinematic methodology in combination with the historical or documentary methodology) is a comingling of documentary investigation with sometimes abstract, even lyrical, expression. I maintain that through such lyric abstraction Peck accomplishes a striking meditation on the practice of historical investigation itself. In effect, the film - joining the company of other important and ground-breaking nonfiction films - does not simply convey historical information but becomes an analytical historical instrument, performing historical and cultural work. …

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