Le Silence de la forêt

By Didier Ouenangaré and Bassek ba Kobhio

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The fact that Eriq Ebouaney stars in both films seems to set up an echo effect between the two: Silence de la forêt‘s hero is a kind of Lumumba (by Raoul Peck) returning to Africa forty years after independence. Gonaba has been living in Europe, but he too is a brilliant speaker and shows the same determination not to compromise himself: « As a passive spectator, I am as responsible as anyone else for this entire buffoonery« , he informs the spectator in an initially omnipresent voice-over forming a literary voice that reflects the book from which the film is adapted.
He is the chief schools inspector and does not enter into the logic of the power structures that the start of the film humorously portrays. His relationship with Simone, a bar manageress to whom Nadège Beausson-Diagne gives a fine presence, confirms his marginality. Enraged by the African realities, he rails against the system. His revolt remains verbal, however, until he notices one day during an inspection just how much everyone despises the Pygmies. Passionate about Barthélémy Bodanga, the first President of the Central African Republic’s ideas about the equality between all men, he sets out to discover who these small folk whom everyone denigrates or exploits are, and heads off into the forest…
A highly entertaining initiation process thus begins for him, in which has no other choice than to eat caterpillars and to drink the chief’s spit… Having set out to educate the Pygmies in a voluntarist manner, he learns that Simone was right when she said that you cannot make people happy without their consent. The Pygmies turn out to be remarkably resistant to any attempt to influence them and it is Gonaba who will learn from them. At this point, the film turns into a quasi-ethnographic presentation of Pygmy customs. Whilst initially distanced from a hero driven by anger and slogans, we are invited to share his initiation. Through his relationship with the beautiful Kali, the ethnological discovery becomes anthropological. People’s relativity in society becomes the subject of the film rather than the Pygmies.
It is no doubt here that the generally rhythmical, well-handled and remarkably acted film reaches its limits. The human drama Gonaba goes through leaves us cold. If the emotion is lacking, it is no doubt because the poetic elements that could have given more depth to his tale are under-exploited. The relationship with Kali remains superficial, the forest’s beauty is visually under-used, the children are not given much individual character, the magnificent Aka songs are repeated until they become commonplace, and the message’s depth is not really developed… Added to that is the abrupt disappearance from the plot of two characters who so marked the hero – Simone and the Pygmy guide – without any justification in the scenario, frustrating the spectators of the hitherto established relationship.
Le Silence de la forêt is thus an up-beat, funny and captivating film that nonetheless leaves you wanting something more.

1h34 mn – Central African Republic – 2003
Directed by Didier Ouénangaré and Bassek Ba Kobhio.
Starring Eriq Ebouaney, Sonia Zemborou, Nadège Beausson Diagne, Philippe Maury.
Screenplay: Didier Ouénangaré, Bassek Ba Kobhio
Cinematography: Pierre-Olivier Larrieu
Music: Manu Dibango
Production: Les Films Terre Africaine
Cannes: Directors’ Fortnight 2003
Appointed Inspector of Schools in Bangui after his studies in France, Gonaba, suddenly decides to drop everything to go to live in the heart of the equatorial forest where the Babingas Pygmies live. His aim is to help them emancipate themselves from the « tall men », whose racism he finds intolerable forty years after independence. One immutable truth emerges from his long ordeal – namely that happiness is the most relative thing in the world.
B.P 11 371 Yaoundé (Cameroon)
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Production associate:
Centre National d Cinéma du Gabon (Libreville)
Telephone: 00 (241) 74 04 06///Article N° : 5697


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