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Saturday, June 09, 2018

Allan Fish Online Film Festival 2018

My contribution to the 2nd Allan Fish Online Festival.

Aristotle’s Plot (1996, France/UK/Zimbabwe, Jean-Pierre Bekolo)


I selected Cameroonian director Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Aristotle’s Plot because at its core, this film is about that vital debate of commercial vs artistic cinema, the blockbusters of Hollywood vs a nation’s local cinema. The film also offers the chance to discover a unique voice from African Cinema. Jean-Pierre Bekolo is not a well known name even though his debut 1992 film Quartier Mozart gained some recognition on the film festival circuit. The energetic and humorous Quartier Mozart combined folklore with some jaw-dropping moments. Still, the debut could not have prepared for what Bekolo attempted next in 1996 with Aristotle’s Plot.

At a running time of just 68 minutes, Aristotle’s Plot packs a lot of ideas and memorable dialogues about the meaning of cinema. The story features two characters on opposing side of the cinematic debate, a local gangster who consumes only Hollywood action films and a struggling independent filmmaker who wants people to care about African cinema. The gangster goes by the name of Cinema because he claims “he has watched 10,000” films. His rival is a filmmaker named Essomba Tourneur (E.T for short) who prefers to be called a Cineaste. The difference in view between the two is shown early in the film after Cinema claims to have seen 10,000 films, E.T counters and asks “oh yes, but how many of them were African?”. To which Cinema replies “very few” before going on to add that he doesn’t think much of African films. That debate about the worth of African cinema is repeated on a few occasions and highlights that locals flock to Hollywood films but stay away from African cinema. Even a local policeman claims to have never seen a single African film but is aware of Hollywood stars.

Cinema and his gang hang out at Cinema Africa where they watch non-stop Hollywood action films. Inspired by those action films and characters, his gang members have names such as Bruce Lee, Cobra, Nikita, Schwarzenegger and Van Damme. E.T is dismayed that locals identify more with Hollywood than local culture or stories. With assistance from the police, E.T is able to wrestle Cinema Africa away from the gang and starts showing local African films. As it turns out, his showing of African films doesn’t find many interested people and one screening only has a single person turn-out. Upset at the loss of their Cinema Africa, Cinema and his gang have grand plans of creating their own new Cinema. However, they still long for those action films they used to see and attempt to regain their old Cinema Africa resulting in a final stand-off.

The entire film is one long running joke which doesn’t spare both commercial and artistic cinema; the film pokes fun at commercial cinema and its endless sequels or characters who can’t be killed and even takes a few jabs at the pace of events in some artistic films. As a result, there are many lasting images and dialogues which linger long in the memory. Perhaps, one of the most memorable images is watching E.T cart reels of his film in a shopping cart.

 
This brilliant yet simple image symbolizes the problems of making an independent film, where a director is forced to be a beggar in order to complete their work. The film also evokes Godard and is a bit early for its times. Back in 1996, Hollywood didn’t dominate multiplexes and box-offices around the world like it does today. The distance between Hollywood and local cinema has only increased in the last two decades since this film was released. The character of E.T is now a reality in a majority of nations where local filmmakers struggle to get their films seen.

The entire film can be seen here.

Cross-published on Wonders in the Dark.

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