Can Dialectics Break Bricks Cinema: Black and White in Colour (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1976)

Sunday March 31st 2019, Can Dialectics Break Bricks Cinema: Black and White in Colour / La Victoire en chantant, Noirs et Blancs en couleur, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1976, 92 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Doors open at 20.00, Jeffrey’s intro and film start at 20.30

When I was attending university during the protest-fueled 1970s, this was one of the most popular films screened on campuses. It captured the spirit of the time, when people understood colonialism and the anti-war demonstrations were blazing. This film is set during 1915 and is a biting look at both colonialism and war, but one with a wicked sense of humor. Just the title of the film already shows a playful satirical wit. This was the first film by Jean-Jacques Annaud, who later went on to make The Lover and Name of the Rose.

This flick centers on two European outposts in central Africa, one French and one German. The French soldiers are pretty lazy and mostly concerned about food and sex, and are just waiting for retirement… while the Germans are more interested in regulations and disciplining their black servants (slaves) to march correctly. Communication is slow at such an outpost (no internet back then), it only comes in newspapers sent from Europe that arrive six months late. From such a newspaper the French discover something that the Germans don’t know yet – their two countries have been at war since August of 1914! The French decide they have to do something about this, take action first and defend their country. What unfolds is a devastating satire about imperialism and the tragic results of World War One.

Filmed on location on the Ivory Coast, it is based on Annaud’s own experiences while working in Cameroun as part of his French national service. While he was there he read a history book of the country, and about the great battle of Mora when Europeans caused African tribes to war with their own neighbors. In the last 30 years this film has almost completely vanished, which is pretty shameless… especially since this movie won the academy award for best foreign film in 1976.

And just to be clear: up to today only one film from sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) has ever won an Academy Award for best foreign-language movie, and it was this one, a French production flying under the flag of the Ivory Coast. This pretty much shows how racism is alive as ever, and is still kicking. So I think it is about time we dust this flick off and throw it on the big screen again after decades of absence. It remains totally relevant today, since it seems our mentality about imperialism, racism and war haven’t improved even a bit.

Film night at Joe’s Garage, cozy cinema! Free entrance. You want to play a movie, let us know: joe [at] squat [dot] net