From the Chicago Reader (July 23, 1993). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Jean-Pierre Bekolo
With Serge Amougou, Sandrine Ola’a, Jimmy Biyong, Essindi Mindja, Atebass, and Timoleon Boyongueno.
I cannot tell a lie. I couldn’t follow all the plot details of Mozart Quarter — Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s delightful comic fantasy about contemporary sex relations in a working-class neighborhood in Yaounde, Cameroon — even after I saw it a third time. Some of my confusion was probably due to the subtitler’s effort to render part of the French African dialogue in American inner-city slang — an understandable goal, but one that sometimes sacrifices lucidity for superficial familiarity and occasionally produces outright gibberish. Another problem is that certain Western cultural artifacts have meanings specific to the oral story-telling culture out of which Mozart Quarter arises.
Yet this wasn’t an obstacle to my enjoyment of the film, which is playing five times this week at the Film Center; on the contrary, it operated more as an incentive. If the common liberal error in understanding non-Western societies is to assume they’re exactly like us and the common conservative error is to assume they’re nothing like us, any movie that confounds both sides is bound to have a few things to teach us.… Read more »
Written for Sight and Sound‘s documentary film poll in their September 2014 issue, and posted online with partial corrections (and some new errors, such as spelling James Benning’s RR “Rr”). . Two unfortunate differences between my ten-best list and the one they published on paper is (1) the exclusion (through an oversight) of my 9th selection, Peter Thompson‘s Universal Hotel/Universal Citizen (although online they now list only Universal Hotel and exclude Universal Citizen) and (2) my specification that I was referring only to the French version of Rossellini’s India — a version that I vastly prefer to the Italian version, though more as fiction than for any “documentary” reasons (which applies to most or all of my other choices). This gives an added truth to James Benning’s own bold contribution to the same poll, well worth quoting in full: “Titanic (Cameron). This is my only vote: an amazing document of bad acting. And, I might add, all films are fictions.” — J.R.
There are documentary filmmakers who plant their stakes within existing traditions and those for whom cinema has to be reinvented. Claude Lanzmann clearly belongs in the latter category. Of course cinema already had to exist in order to allow Lanzmann to make Shoah (1985) — named after the Hebrew word for annihilation — but he also had to rethink what cinema could be.… Read more »