“An ambitious look at the ambiguous relationship between Europe and Africa” is how Cineuropa describes it.
Needless to say, that’ll get my attention each and every time. Is the relationship all that ambiguous though? I’m being cheeky… a little; although I’m thinking that maybe a more descriptive term would be “complicated,” or “complex.”
Anywho… the German-produced film is called Sleeping Sickness, made its premiere earlier this year at the Berlinale. It’s directed by Ulrich Köhler, and centers on a (white) family living in Cameroon, in West Africa, as they find themselves “torn between two worlds and two different perspectives.” I’m sure you can guess what the 2 worlds/perspectives are.
The family patriarch, German Dr Ebbo, has been living in Cameroon for many years with his family, though his teen daughter is studying in Germany, which makes his wife even more anxious to leave the Cameroon and return to Germany to be closer to their child. But the choice isn’t an easy one for Dr Ebbo. Guess why he’s so torn?
If you’ve seen films like Claire Denis’ White Material – a somewhat similar story actually – you’ll know what I mean.
In the end, there’s some drama that results from his indecision, etc, etc, etc…
But what makes this fable different from titles like White Material is that it includes a second plotline that looks at the idea of remigration from the opposite POV. Specifically, we are also introduced to a character named Alex Nzila, a young Congolese physician, who has spent much of his life studying and working in France, who travels to Cameroon, after not setting foot in the African continent for a long period of time, to evaluate a development project. So, like Dr Ebbo, he feels like a stranger in what should be his own land (Europe for Ebbo, Africa for Nzila).
Of course, all kinds of drama ensues for both men, based on the trailer that follows below. Ordinarily, I’d be uninterested in a film like this, as the story is often one-sided, told strictly from the white man/woman’s POV; I appreciate the inclusion of the reverse. So, while I can’t say I’ll approach this with some trepidation, I’m curious about all the developments we see in the trailer below – which isn’t subtitled, by the way; also the poster is underneath (no word on when and where it’ll be released yet):