The peas­ants are still re­volt­ing

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE


★★★ Di­rected by Göran Ols­son Club, IFI, Dublin, 89 min

This chill­ing, aus­tere es­say on the work of Frantz Fanon, early pi­o­neer of post-colo­nial stud­ies, be­gins with a brac­ing in­tro­duc­tion from aca­demic Gay­a­tri Chakra­vorty Spivak. The In­dian thinker ex­plains how, on its pub­li­ca­tion in 1961, Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth was banned in France and caused even po­ten­tial fel­low trav­eller Jean-Paul Sartre to swal­low ner­vously. Spivak tells us that, far from urg­ing or rev­el­ling in vi­o­lence, Fanon’s text ar­gues that vi­o­lence is an in­evitable con­se­quence of colo­nial­ism.

That in­ter­pre­ta­tion seems sus­tain­able for most of the film. Lau­ren Hill speaks lumps of Fanon’s text over archival footage. We see Swedish mis­sion­ar­ies fail­ing to grasp the ironies of their un­char­i­ta­ble ar­ro­gance. We lis­ten to a racist Rhode­sian farmer dis­cuss the in­evitable end of that coun­try’s white hege­mony. In one ex­tra­or­di­nary shot, a maimed mother feeds her

maimed baby. The mes­sage is stark and clear: colo­nial­ism de­grades the colonised and makes a mon­ster of coloniser.

Th­ese points are hard to dis­pute. but they emerge from an ar­gu­ment that was won decades ago.

The dis­cus­sion takes a more sin­is­ter turn. Mov­ing on from rep­re­sent­ing vi­o­lence as a con­se­quence of in­jus­tice, the quotes re­ally do, as Sartre sug­gested, seem to cel­e­brate vi­o­lence as a pu­ri­fy­ing en­ergy in it­self. If this mis­rep­re­sents the text, then the film-mak­ers must ac­cept some blame.

There are ex­tra­or­di­nary images on dis­play here. But it’s dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why this film has emerged now. The Wretched of the Earth may have been banned 50 years ago, but anti-colo­nial stud­ies are now some­thing of an aca­demic in­dus­try. I imag­ine a few em­ployed in that in­dus­try might scowl a lit­tle at Ols­son’s decision to sub­ti­tle some per­fectly lu­cid English from African con­trib­u­tors.

I’m al­lowed to say that, surely.

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