From its bizarre animated opening to its darkly comic subversion of icons (crucifixes are converted into swords at one point), Soleil Ô makes no bones about its agenda and Hondo clarifies the importance of his message through subverting the gaze of the viewer. While the film designates itself as a pamphlet, the focus is more on the reconstruction of identity than the loss of it, and Hondo does not discriminate in his description of blackness. As Djibril Diop Mambéty was to later achieve with his surreal Touki Bouki, Hondo interprets film through the context of African oral storytelling, acknowledging that to recontextualise cinema for an African perspective is to reinterpret the medium. Satirical but fiercely humanistic, Soleil Ô is a film essay whose importance can never be overstated, and deserves a contemporary rediscovery.
Monday, 16 August 2010
Shot and produced in France by Mauritanian expatriate filmmaker and actor Med Hondo, Soleil Ô has been variously described as the first African avant-garde film and the most significant film made about African émigrés. The abstract film essay, incorporating elements of melodrama and comedy, takes the form of a series of vignettes decrying the treatment of Africans in France. A character seeking employment is met with prejudice and derision from almost everyone, causing him to question the intrinsically French hendiatris of “liberty, equality, fraternity”. Another scene sees a circle of men seek divine forgiveness for speaking in their native tongues, suggesting they could only hope to be granted consideration by Christ once shed of their African identities.