Chiledoc Berlinale 2024

When a master dies…

SLAVERY / Eternal human tales of suffering told as a shamanic journey.

Let’s Say Revolution, by Nicolas Klotz and Elisabeth Perceval, is a strange beast of a film, opening with an on-screen statement: «Do not hurt yourself, we are still here» before continuing with repeated statements from various voices … «When a master dies, he must be buried with his horse, his dog, and his slave….»

Let's Say Revolution, a film by Nicolas Klotz, Elisabeth Perceval (International Competition)
Let’s Say Revolution, a film by Nicolas Klotz, Elisabeth Perceval

Jazz cocktail

The story unfolds against a jazz cocktail music background, quite dissonant from the black and white images we see of a fire, of rain pouring down on an outdoor café somewhere in Africa, or another place – who knows?

But the slave has the right to run away, leaving the horse and dog waiting five days… And the story continues on and on, again and again, using a pejorative term for a black slave that has cost academics in the US and elsewhere their jobs for using it during university seminars.

The message is repeated again and again. The master has a right to kill him, but he has the right to flight. What on earth is this film about, viewers may find themselves asking.

A woman repeats the same message in voice-over; a black man on camera…

WTF is this film about?

A smorgasbord of black male faces, later joined by females, repeat the message and N-word repeatedly.

WFT is this film about?

Let’s Say Revolution – does literally that. The same message revolves and revolves for the first few minutes. On a dreary autumn evening, this is something of a challenging experience. Perhaps audiences at Doclisboa in the warmth of the final rays of a southern summer may feel a little warmer towards a documentary that, experimental as it is, initially left this reviewer cold.

There are more faces, black women too… the cocktail music is now full-on jazz. Faces repeat the mantra silently.

And the story continues on and on, again and again, using a pejorative term for a black slave that has cost academics in the US and elsewhere their jobs for using it during university seminars.

Facts don’t exist

Later in a scene of a rehearsal for the film, we learn that the filmmakers are making a film, «a sort of ceremony» and that facts don’t exist.

There is discussion of hunter and prey – some can be chased, others can’t.

When prey is hunted, it has no choice but to run.

Then a strange conversation with a 72-year-old about love, work and women… and the mocking young men. Will he be the hunter and they the prey?

We switch to colour footage of break-dancing – where are we? Nigeria, Ghana?, Brazil? Somewhere else in South America#? Nothing is clear. It is poetry. Images and words.

In another voice over the captured slave is asked by a woman why he ran. «Because I don’t want to die,» he answers as if understanding the depth of his desire to live for the first time.

There are glimmerings of warmth here, a beginning of enlightenment about this message, for any of us who has ever run before death – or the threat of death, through disease, violence, risk or mental anguish – will understand what he means.

We see a burning, floating byre on a nighttime river, and by daylight, people playing in the waters, men in their underwear, women in bikinis and bras. The film unfolds like a dream or a nightmare – make your choice.

We return to the shamanic story – a man who tells of his father (born 1897) taking him into the forest at night to tell him «truths» from his grandfather’s time, when the ancestor was a chief and people were still free as this was before colonisation in that country. He says he was told truths about «the whites», though he does not elaborate, and we are left none the wiser. Perhaps that is part of the secret that must not be told.

The chief had 32 wives, 120 kids, and when he died, three favourite wives and two slaves went with him, but they run away, sensing they would enter the grave with him. It is, one character on screen says, the selfishness of the ego that is dying but still does not want to give up power.

There is commentary on this from various speakers, male and female, each taking their little bit of truth from this: one young woman, who has been dancing in the background, says slaves like master will die soon too anyway. A young man says it shows how easily an oral tradition can continue to live over time and place.

There are glimmerings of what this meditation in film is pointing at, but still, the rational mind screams: WTF is this film about?

Let's Say Revolution, a film by Nicolas Klotz, Elisabeth Perceval (International Competition)
Let’s Say Revolution, a film by Nicolas Klotz, Elisabeth Perceval

Your truths

This simple answer is if you are at Doslisboa on another venue where Let’s Say Revolution is playing, is watch it and take your own truth away with you as its theme unfolds across a leisurely two hours of music, dance, image and stories that include that of a modern-day escaped slave and uprisings against brutality by man against man.

Meaning seeps in, and with it, warmth and identification with characters who are forced to flee, as the story says in the beginning.

Its makers say it is «a shamanic documentary whose main theme is the hunt for man through eras and continents and whose driving force is dance as an art of war and healing to ward off, organise, the resistance of souls and bodies.»

In an interview, its directors add: «Let’s Say Revolution is an epic haunted by exile and also by slavery, colonisation and globalisation. It’s a trans-historical film that starts with the flight of a slave and brings us towards the hypothesis of a major collective revolution faced with the appalling extinction that’s already begun. The Anthropocene, the Capitalocene, the 6th Extinction.»

Make of that what you will, but dream or nightmare, this is a film to spark contemplation as the nights fast begin to draw in.

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Nick Holdsworth
Nick Holdsworthhttp://nickholdsworth.net/
Our regular critic. Journalist, writer, author. Works mostly from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

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