Thursday, February 16, 2017

Notes on Maman Colonel by Dieudo Hamadi, Democratic Republic of the Congo/France: 2017. Berlin Filmfestival VII.-Forum

Colonel Honorine Munyole better known as Maman Colonel leads a special police unit which is fighting against sexual violence and which is supposed to protect women and children. After 15 years she is transferred to another region where she will face new challenges and where she has to start again. The film follows her work and her devotion for raped refugee women and abused children. In her neat uniform, as a sign of her certain power, she appears as a dignified woman in her Forties. It is hard to see a difference how she takes care of her own biological and adopted children and the abused kids she finds in the streets. She always addresses the people as “mothers”, “fathers” and “children”. About the disrupted and cruel history of this country, we learn only my the stories told by the widowed refugees. Before their husbands were killed the women where raped in front of them. Later we see handicapped and cripples men, other victims of the past. They are officially recognized as victims but instead of showing compassion for these women they doubt their status as victims. That is s sign of a chauvinism even among victims.

What distinguishes Maman Colonel from so much well-intentioned documentaries about countries branded by violence and poverty, is the filmmaker´s discreet mode to give space to this impressive woman whose personality can unfold in front of the camera. She dominates the space like a very lovable female pendant to Orson Welles. But behind her certain power, her certain authority, evident in her correct uniform and her ritualized body language according to her social and professional status , the film reveals always her real strength, that is to say her love and compassion for the poor and defenceless people. When she addresses the people she makes less use of her acknowledged authority but demands from them such good old fashioned characteristics like solidarity.

There is a scene when she and her police force free a group of children condemned as “witches” and, locked into a cabin by relatives and their community. One of the children shed tears. With her huge hands she wipes the tears from this tiny face. This tender gesture is a small but memorable moment and it seems to tell about both, the attitude of Colonel Honorine and the filmmaker. The kind Dieudo Hamada gives space for the things unfolding in front of his camera reminds me a little in one of the basic ideas by late French critic André Bazin, the confidence that the things in front of the camera will unfold as if by themselves.

There is a beautiful example for Hamadi´s attitude – yes and let me again stress the wonderful German word “Einstellung”, a word which includes the technical term as well as the term a”attitude”. Colonel Honorine is sitting on the right side of the frame at her desk. Three women sitting in front of her in a slight lower position on a bank. At the first sight it looks like a classical composition suggesting a social hierarchy. Even more unusual, this moment seems to be on the surface one of very few really volitional sequences. But than one woman hands over a bunch of bank notes to Colonel Honorine. It is a donation for the traumatized refugees and children, Maman Colonel is caring for, a care that goes much beyond her professional duty as a police officer. From one moment to the other, the hierarchy in this image is dissolved. Honorine is almost speechless and touched by this obvious and unexpected sign of solidarity. This is also the dissolution of her as a representative of an abstract authority evident in Honorine´s uniform and her certain social rank. But it is also the dissolution of the certain power a filmmaker has to determine a certain image of the world. Maman Colonel is not just a film who pleads for solidarity and in a country afflicted by violence and wars. Hamadi embraces this solidarity and compassion manifested by Maman Colonel in a very cinematic way. Hamadi´s work the sensitive “musician” perfect coordinated with the “singer” called Maman Colonel.

Rüdiger Tomczak

18.02 Arsenal, 17.30

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