Pièces d’identité

By Dieudonné Ngangura Mweze (DRC)

The disillusionment of an African sage
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The second feature film by the Congolese filmmaker Mweze Dieudonné Ngangura won the Etalon de Yennenga at the sixteenth Fespaco. Set in Congo and Belgium, the film tells the incredible tale of an old African king, Mani Kongo, who comes up against a range of characters racked by their diverse identity problems. The style is alert, and the tone of the film tinged with humor and poetry.

At the world premier of the film in March 1998 at the eighth African Film Festival in Milan, Pièces d’identités won the prize awarded by the public, which confirms that this work, which bubbles with laughter, emotion, and poetry, is a popular success. Constructed as a dramatic comedy with the overtones of a thriller, the film narrates the bitter-sweet tale of an old African king, Mani Kongo, who is played by Gérard Essomba, one of the Cameroonian cinema’s main stars. The emblematic figure of traditional Africa, the old king arrives in Brussels in search of his daughter Mwana, who has been studying there for twenty years without ever deigning to give any sign of life. The airport customs officials demand that he pay an import tax, taking his hat, pearl necklace and his rare wood carved sceptre to be art objects. The king has to oblige.
His travels take become a initiatory voyage, which may be read as a metaphor for Africa’s perilous march towards modernity. He gradually drops his illusions about the Western cultural model as he meets different archetypal characters who cross his path in Brussels as he looks for his daughter. His certitudes about Belgium-Congolese relations, which he has held since the Universal Fair, are consistently and staunchly challenged. The camera conveys the old king’s gaze in Brussels, painting a colourful portrait of the African immigrant populations. In the filmmaker’s vast tapestry, a series of characters, who are confronted with immigration and integration problems, with problems with their identity papers, evolve, providing a subtle pretext for dealing with the question through the prism of north-south relations. Since La Vie est belle, the first feature film co-directed by Mweze Ngangura and Benoît Lamy, Changa, Changa, Rythmes métissés, and Le roi, la vache et le bananier, the director has made the opposition between tradition and modernity, which is central in Pièces d’identité, his favourite theme.
Different characters enter the picture, evoking the question of identity, work permits, and integration. A young, mixed-race Congo-Belgium, Chaka-Jo, is convincingly played by Jean-Louis Daulne, the famous song-writer and composer (who signed the music of the film). Portrayed as a rebel in revolt against his paternity, and as the image of the mixed-race children abandoned in European orphanages by their fathers at the beginning of the independence era, Chaka-Jo challenges his exclusion by holding up chic cabarets. King Mani Kongo crosses paths with this youth nostalgic for Africa, and who shows him kindness and respect. He helps him in his quest to find his daughter, Mwana, who is brilliantly played by Dominique Mesa (best actress award at the Fespaco). At the same time as Chaka-Jo, we discover that the charming and sensual young woman is the princess the king is looking for. And that Chaka-Jo has fallen for Mwana who, in an effort to resolve her residency permit problems, has become an informer for an inspector who is relentlessly on the trail of her prince charming…
In the meantime, the king has been ripped off by a young Congolese poseur, who is representative of the mass of out-of-work youths who wander the streets of the European capitals. To resolve his money problems, Mani Kongo breaks the tradition by pawing his royal regalia at an antique dealer’s, who wastes no time in putting them up for sale in his shop window. King Mani Kongo’s voyage becomes a nightmare that strips him of all his illusions.
Completely au fait with the African community in Brussels, the director paints a series of portraits which reflect the behaviour of these immigrants. By highlighting hypocrisy, greed, and swindling, he manages to evoke racism, North-South relations, playing on each others differences vis-à-vis Africa and Europe. At the end of the long journey away from his illusions, the king realizes that tradition is not immutable. He becomes convinced that any changes have to come from within. Mastered from beginning to end, Mweze Ngangura’s social portrait is illuminated by the characters’ acting, who are filmed with great tenderness. The music tracks chosen also successfully contribute to the up-beat atmosphere which really makes this film.

///Article N° : 5376

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