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France/Belgium/Germany/Haiti 2000
Directed by
Raoul Peck
115 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Patrice Lumumba was the newly independent Congo's first prime minister, and a pioneer of black political liberation in post-colonial Africa. He held office for less than three months before being deposed and then murdered with Belgian and American complicity. The film, which opens moments before Lumumba's secret execution and then shows two Belgian soldiers hacking up his body and burning it to conceal the murder is a portrait of both human cruelty and cupidity and commitment and self-sacrifice.

Shot in Zambia and Mozambique and told in flashback, Lumumba gives an informative account of the tribal-based in-fighting that occurred in the Congo in 1960 with the collapse of Belgian rule, set against the backdrop of the Cold War, which saw Lumumba quickly rise and fall from power. Haitian director Raoul Peck tells the story with economy, recounting the complex political history, always a difficult task, without losing dramatic force, although somewhat ironically, this tends to be at the expense of Lumumba’s own story  - his rise from beer seller in Stanleyville to incumbent President is presented as a given.

Eriq Ebouaney gives a commanding performance as Lumumba, a charismatic leader but also a politically naïve one whose idealistic but headstrong and reckless nature lead to his own downfall. Alex Descas as Mobutu, the friend and ally who eventually betrayed Lumumba and became the despotic ruler of the Congo provides strong support. It is, of course, a tragic story and however accurate the film is factually, that is probably its most memorable aspect. That and the reflection that African politics don’t seem to have improved much, even fifty years later.




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