Barbecue Pejo (Africultures 24), Djib (Afr. 32), Mama Aloko (Afr. 44, plus interview), and soon La valse des gros derrières Odoutan churns out a feature film or two a year on a short-film budget!
Whilst all African filmmakers struggle for years to make their films, Odoutan has the nerve needed to bring out punchy, rough-and-ready films that have ended up seducing certain critics. Libération and even the Cahiers du Cinéma extol this Beninese director’s typically suburban cocky humour and verve. He overflows with energy. In both real-life and in his films, he’s always handing out flyers, touting on bistro terraces, and is everywhere. He’d be nothing on his own, however, but the Odoutan gang is just like the Guédigian clan a circle of close friends who put all their energy into making the films exist, undoubtedly for very little payment. This cosmopolitan gang has appointed itself a remarkable actress, Laurentine Milebo. She derives her large dose of presence and human depth from her Pointe Noire past as a funeral wake emcee and improvised theatre actress. An astonishing actor himself when he doesn’t overdo the burlesque, Odoutan wins the audience over with his half-tender, half-grumpy nature and his bitingly sharp lines.
This is his own way of telling his own story that of a child in care who had to battle it out in the Parisian suburbs. It’s his village aspect that is moving, this little theatre in which everyone shouts louder than the next in a series of continual arguments, frustrations, and reconciliations. The improvisation, and at times amateurism, that oozes from the screen even end up working. The film goes from one flunked scene that they couldn’t afford to re-shoot to hang in there in the next, as these films are constructed like a series of playlets that impose a frenetic rhythm. Superb images sometimes emerge from the torrent, whilst the camera stays astonishingly static in others.
The secondary characters are terribly stereotyped, but we are used to this with the television and that is maybe what constitutes Odoutan’s strength. It is our little France that emerges, as it is shown on TV, that cosmopolitan France that dares not speak its name but which transpires if we are willing to look it in the face. It’s like a revelation, our own image at last, unlike the television which continues to spin us very white, spotless yarns.
The humour is omnipresent, yet we don’t laugh because the situations are dramatic and extreme. We stay glued to the screen, both fascinated and irritated, as this cinema is more serious than it at first seems and Odoutan is more gifted than he likes to let on.
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