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
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
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
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.