Juju Factory, 2007 / 35 mm / Colour / 97 min, Dir. Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda, Democratic Republic of the Congo – France – Belgium.
Warning: There are spoilers in this movie review!
A humourous and super-clever social commentary on… exile and migration? Belgian colonialism? racism in Europe? the psychology of the colonized? of the decolonized? of the comprador bourgeoisie?
Yeah, i think all these things.
i saw Juju Factory at the World Film Festival in Montreal last week. It was sharp as a tack, and a lot of gutsy, experimental, ways of shooting which would normally turn me off all worked perfectly, which from me is saying something (i.e. like many, i hate artsy shit). My only regret was that director-writer Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda was there to see that less than twenty people had shown up. Don’t know if it’s the Festival’s fault, if it’s because it was a late showing, or if it’s a Montreal thing, but it’s a real shame that so few people came out to see such a good movie.
Linear as a moebius strip, Juju Factory is full of references both implicit and explicit, right down to its name – as another reviewed has pointed out, a “juju” is a talisman or charm which can protect one from evil… but in French “juju” sounds like “jouet”, a mere toy…
This is the story of the writer Kongo Congo (thumbs up to actor Dieudonné Kabongo Bashila), who finds himself living in Brussels’ “African neighbourhood”, Matonge Village. With a repo man threatening to take away all his belongings, people back in his homeland depending on him to send money, and a need to express his own feelings about exile and about his roots, Congo agrees to write a book – supposedly a “travel guide” to introduce Matonge Village to white europeans – for an allegedly “African” publishing house. So begins the conflict between Congo and Joseph Désiré, his publisher and thus his boss, an African man who insists he is Belgian, who goes so far as to ask the statue of King Leopold for advice for how to deal with this his uppity writer.
As Congo writes of his homes, both the land of his birth and that of his exile, we see human beings, silly and funny and angry, dealing with life. But although there are characters and there is humour here, this film is far from being a straight up narrative, its more a combination of scenes and sounds, as the “real” world and the text of Congo’s book seem increasingly intertwined (“my imagination makes love with reality,” as the author explains to his skeptical sister in-law).
Dreamy sequences and symbolic conversations all flesh out what eventually appear less as relationships between characters as between what Frantz Fanon might have called “species”. At the same time, hints appear that the book he is writing is in fact the film we are watching… and as Joseph Désiré becomes increasingly rigid and demanding, insisting on a prettified advertisement about ethnic colour in Belgium’s capital, Congo becomes increasingly haunted by thoughts of Patrice Lumumba and the history of European theft and pillage on the African continent.
Really this is Bakupa-Kanyinda doing the writing, and this film is really as much about the real Matonge Village and the real nature of colonialism as Congo’s book is supposed to be. In an interview the writer-director has said as much, explaining that the film resulted from his own thoughts about the role of some Africans in maintaining the slave trade. (Little surprise that as Congo finishes his book he renames it Juju Factory.)
As Congo struggles with the book and with his own family dramas, he comes into greater and greater conflict with Désiré on a number of different levels. All the while the publisher/dictator keeps on putting off promised payments to the writer/nation, until he finally cancels the deal, shouting at Congo that he can bury his memories of ancestors and freedom fighters wherever he wants, just not in his book… the folly of power, as if a publisher was anything without a writer, as if the strongmen of the neo-colonies would be of any value to the real kingpins without the people “underneath” them.
This sets the stage for the film’s turning point, one which makes it more than just good, as we learn that Désiré’s “secretary” is in fact the president of the “Help Africa” foundation which is bankrolling this contentious book. She will have nothing of Désiré losing Congo. Unlike the europhile dictator, this white woman loves the book – now titled, of course, Juju Factory – and in one fell swoop arranges for it to be published without any of Désiré’s cuts, and then has the publisher straight out fired. Colonialism as mindfuck: it was never Désiré’s company at all, not any more than it was his book.
When Congo tells his former tormentor to fuck off, he suggests that Désiré would be well suited for some other job, for instance he would make an excellent African politician. The meaning couldn’t be more clear even if one had forgotten about Mobutu Sese Seko, who the Belgians and Americans put in power after they killed Lumumba, and who had been known as Joseph Désiré Mobutu before he changed his name… Bakupa-Kanyinda is making sure we understand that this is not just a film or a book about likable or dislikable characters, but is about the real world, as we see Désiré wandering down the street warming to the idea of what a great leader he will be…
The film ends with Congo being all the rave with hip Belgian society. Like icing on the cake we see him interviewed by young Belgian journalists, but notice: their entire focus is on the titillating (“Did you have sex in the museum?”), or on the portrayal of the white bit characters in the story (“A bit of a caricature, don’t you think?”).