LUMUMBA directed by Raoul Peck, written by Peck and Pascal Bonitzer, produced by Jacques Bidou with Eriq Ebouaney, Alex Descas, Théophile Moussa Sowie, Maka Kotto and Dieudonné Kabongo. 115 minutes. Opens Friday (August 17). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 69. Rating: NNNN
with a spine like a steel rod and a piercing gaze, Eriq Ebouaney looks like Malcolm X. In fact, he looks more like Malcolm X than Denzel Washington did, because his look is rougher.But Ebouaney is playing a different hero, a man mostly forgotten outside Africanist circles, although his struggle was as great.
Patrice Lumumba was a postal worker, a beer pitchman, a liberation leader and the first prime minister of the independent Congo. He spent mere months in the job, thanks to rival politicians, power-drunk Belgians and the visible hand of the CIA.
In the end, and the end came quickly, he was assassinated in 1961. Joseph Mobutu filled the power vacuum and rose to become a murderous despot unrivalled even among the ranks of murderous despots.
Lumumba's story plays like a classic tragedy, accelerated. And that's how Raoul Peck tells it -- the brightest hope brought swiftly down by the gathering forces of brute power and by his own refusal to fight those forces tactically.
By most accounts, Lumumba was a leader, not a politician. He gave passionate speeches but made decisions without regard to his own neck. Ebouaney plays him as a man constantly moving forward. And Peck tells the story in a rush of high points, though he does allow the beautiful touch of a narration from beyond the grave.
It's the one element reminiscent of his earlier documentary, Lumumba: Death Of A Prophet. That film is loved among progressive sensualists for its open form and its mingling of personal and political. (Peck spent his childhood in the Congo, to which his Haitian parents had been recruited to help build the new nation.)
This feature version is starker and less allusive than the documentary, but it does one crucial thing.
In nearly every country on the planet with a revolutionary pedigree, there is a road named after Patrice Lumumba. He's become a boulevard.
Peck's film brings back the urgent history, and the man who made it.