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New York African Film Fest Review: Isaach de Bankolé Returns Home in Philippe Lacôte’s Debut Feature ‘Run’ About the Civil War in Ivory Coast

New York African Film Fest Review: Isaach de Bankolé Returns Home in Philippe Lacôte’s Debut Feature 'Run' About the Civil War in Ivory Coast

The New York premiere of Ivorian director Philippe Lacôte’s debut feature “Run” was a

star-studded event at the 2015 African Film Festival at the Film Society of Lincoln

Center.

Jim Jarmusch arrived early, asking for his ticket by name at the streetside box office

window. A festival organizer ushered him inside where dozens of patrons milled around

waiting for the film to begin.

“Run” centers around its eponymous main character, played by “Burn it Up Djassa” star

Abdoul Karim Konaté, who has just killed the Ivoirian Prime Minister. To accomplish this,

he transforms himself into a madman, lying in wait until the precise moment when the

politician emerges in public. Using his “madness” as a cloak of invisibility, Run

assassinates the leader and escapes with the help of fellow dissident Assa, played by

Isaach de Bankolé, the latter of whom pays the ultimate price for his subversion.

In the lobby, there was a flurry of excitement as de Bankolé strode through the crowd to

retrieve Lacôte, who sat at a table in the restaurant with friends after grabbing a quick

cigarette outside. With a firm arm, the acclaimed actor pushed the comparatively

nonchalant director through the theater doors, from which a line trailed all the way down

to the front entrance.

Dressed casually in a gray sweatshirt, T-shirt, and jeans—similar to his attire at the

closing ceremony of the 2015 Pan-African Film & Television Festival of Ouagadougou

(FESPACO), where “Run” took home the Prix du Conseil de L’entente for its themes of

peace, brotherhood, and solidarity—Philippe didn’t seem at all phased by the palpable

excitement.

By now, he’s seen it all.

Lacôte was one of 15 directors whose projects were selected for the 2012 Cannes

L’Atelier, an initiative aimed at finding financing for projects by up-and-comers. The film

came in at a budget of $2.1 million.

“Run” went on to become the first Ivorian feature ever selected to premiere at the

Cannes Film Festival, in 2014, where it competed in the Un Certain Regard section that

recognizes young, promising talent. Despite the prestigious bow, the film got mixed

reviews, with some critics predicting its limited arthouse distribution beyond

Francophone territories.

Beautifully shot, brilliantly cast, and well acted, “Run” takes us on a journey into a

turbulent and divisive past in pre- and post-war Cote d’Ivoire.

Mining the lived experiences of Ivorians, Lacôte transforms their stories into a kind of

cinematic opera: from the gluttony of Greedy Gladys (played by Reine Sali Coulibaly), a

professional eater whose expulsion becomes a metaphor for the country’s violent, pre-

war rejection of foreigners; to the ascension of the Prime Minister, whose appointment is

used as a tool to appease the young masses; and Assa’s death, an homage to the

idealistic, post-independence politicians driven out by corruption.

“Run’s” strength is its magical realism and nonlinear structure that do the narrative work

of conveying the social fractures, incoherence, and changing political alliances during

times of war. The lead character is the embodiment of these conflicts, as he evolves

from a young boy unable to take a life—that of the Rainmaker, Master Tourou (played by

Rasmané Ouédraogo), who believes his death will relieve the drought—to a Young

Patriot militiaman with aspirations of glory, and finally a disillusioned rebel, who kills the

Prime Minister in hopes of ridding the country of false idols and ideals.

During the film’s Q&A, Lacôte spoke at length about the film’s genesis out of a personal

documentary, “Chronicle of War in Ivory Coast,” that he made in 2002.

“I was in my country three days before the beginning of the war, the rebellion, and I

filmed my district Yopougon, with 1.5 million people, during three weeks and after I

followed this conflict for five years and at the end I made a very personal documentary

about my family, about my history in Ivory Coast. During this documentary, I interviewed

a Young Patriot and asked him how he became one and he said, ‘I have three lives.’

Later I took this sentence to imagine the three lives of this young boy [Run].”

The critically acclaimed de Bankolé, a fellow Ivorian, had been approached by many

great African directors over the past 25 years, but had been “searching for some young

blood in Africa to make a film with—not an African movie, but a film,” suggesting a story

that rises above local concerns to a kind of universality. Before filming, he had not been

to his home country for over 17 years, though he still has family there.

When war broke out, he was deeply involved, calling his family every day and helping

free one of his sisters from the Ivory Coast to Mali and, with the French embassy’s help,

later France. It was the same embassy official who, years later, put him in touch with

Lacôte. The latter was open to receiving feedback on the script and willing to fly de

Bankol é business class to Cote d’Ivoire, sealing the deal.

The seasoned actor was nervous at Cannes, having never seen the film’s dailies.

“After the screening, [I thought] if Philippe comes to me tomorrow with no script, I will

follow. When I saw the movie, I saw a film, I saw somebody who can take a story and

make it its own.”

In the end, the film was well received by the audience, who peppered the actor and

director with questions.

Of his central premise, Philippe said: “Run is the story of a young boy who refuses to kill

his master, runs away, and at the end he’s going to commit a murder. So what I really

wanted to achieve was to ask where the violence that is now prevailing in Cote d’Ivoire is

coming from. Was that violence already within us before?”

After the screening, notable guests including de Bankolé, Saul Williams, Angelique Kidjo

and “Mother of George” director Andrew Dosunmu were swamped with fans. Later on, a

handful retired to an Irish bar for drinks, peeling off as the clock struck 1A.M. All in all, it

was a warm New York welcome for an up-and-coming African filmmaker.

Bidding Philippe farewell, I asked him how he felt about the screening. In his

characteristically understated way, he replied that he was surprised by, though happy

for, the enthusiasm.



Iquo B. Essien is a Nigerian-American writer and director. She attended the Graduate Film Program at NYU/Tisch School of the Arts. Her short film, Aissa’s Story, was a regional semifinalist in the 2013 Student Academy Awards and an official selection in the short film competition at FESPACO 2015. She is currently adapting the short into a feature film while writing a memoir, Elizabeth’s Daughter, about losing her mother to cancer. You can find her on Twitter @alligatorlegs. To find out more about Aissa’s Story, visit: www.aissamovie.com.

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