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May 1, 2006

The Colonial Friend, 2004

colonial_friend.gifRachid Bouchareb's indelible and haunting short film The Colonial Friend is a muted, yet thoughtful and compelling true historical account of the 1944 massacre by the French army of indigenous African soldiers who sought to collect wages for their military service. Centered on a Cameroonian farmer, Abi, who, like many able-bodied indigenous men from colonized territories, leaves his family to heed the patriotic call for conscription into the French armed forces during the early 1940s as part of the nation's war campaign against the Germans, he serves with distinction during the war, fighting - and often dying - alongside French and colonized soldiers in the battlefield until he is captured and interned when France falls into the hands of the Germans. Eventually repatriated at the end of the war, Abi briefly returns to his family before rejoining his fellow Senegalese veterans to demand their unpaid wages at Camp de Thiaroye, a peaceful protest that soon turns deadly when the French army turns its armaments towards its own soldiers to force their evacuation from the military installation. Elegantly (and incisively) rendered in two-tone (black and red), pencil sketch animation, Bouchareb understatedly, but effectively presents a pervasive image of subtle, yet omnipresent division and differentiation that continues to surface despite the perpetuated myth of colonial assimilation and enlightened occupation.

Note: The Colonial Friend is viewable online from Tadrart Films.

Posted by acquarello on May 01, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, New York African Film Festival


Have you see Sembène's/Sow's Camp de Thiaroye? Although it's very interesting, and well-made, I was somewhat disappointed and felt that it lacked the nuance that generally characterises Sembène's work. This short is beautifully rendered and, at first glance, more affecting in many ways.

Posted by: Gareth on Mar 25, 2007 8:47 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Gareth. Indeed, Camp de Thiaroye is more direct and "heavy handed" in the way it deals with history especially with respect to Bouchareb's work, but I do think that Sembène has this tendency in all his films. I know that he's indicated before (I think around the time of Xala) that he realizes that in order to reach a broader native African population as he can, film is a much more effective medium to educate people and challenge outmoded traditions.

Posted by: acquarello on Mar 25, 2007 10:31 PM | Permalink

I agree that this a tendency to some extent in Sembène's films, which certainly have their didactic passages, but I was struck particularly by the contrast between Camp de Thiaroye and his subsequent film, Guelwaar, which manages to make some very straightforward points while nonetheless creating extremely complex and nuanced characters and situations. As you point out, of course, he's not just using film as a means to an artistic end, given his explicit social concerns; seen in that light, the occasional heavy-handedness is perhaps the more excusable!

Posted by: Gareth on Mar 26, 2007 11:12 AM | Permalink

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