J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

CUNY Pick: Black Dju

CUNY, the City University of New York, has a public affairs cable network here in the city that also broadcasts some arts programming. In addition to Classic Arts Showcase, a compilation show of performing arts video clips, CUNY also produces City Cinematheque, one of the few remaining cable outlets that from time to time shows foreign films—and not just crossover hits, but films that are may have received limited American distribution. The movies are followed by a discussion by the host and a guest scholar, and you would certainly be forgiven for tuning out at that point.

This weekend’s Black Dju merits a nod for the music alone by André Mergenthaler and the great Cameroonian funk-jazz artist Manu Dibango. The Makossa Man also appears as himself, playing for a house party in the Immigrant’s Hostel, which is a stretch, but cool none-the-less. Also appearing briefly in a strictly dramatic role is Cape Verdian vocalist Cesária Évora.

The story involves Dju’s search for his father, a “guest worker” in Luxemburg, who has lost contact with the family in Cape Verde. Dju sets out to find him, but is quickly swept up by the cops, dutifully following their new immigration control directives. He does however, meet a new ally, Plettschette, a burned out inspector at odds with the force’s new policies and alienated from most of his colleagues. Often it is easier to suspend disbelief in foreign films because the actors are largely unfamiliar and frequently less image conscious. (Sean Penn as a brain surgeon? I think not.) Here haggard does not begin to describe Philippe Léotard’s Plettschette, who looks as if he has been pounding nails with his face.

Dju is the first installment of City Cinematheque’s series, “On the Move: Recent Films about Immigration,” but the post-film commentary suggested it was a bit of a ringer in the mix and not a true movie about the immigrant experience. For instance, a lot of the white European characters, like Plettschette, his barkeeper friend, and the manager of the hostel, were actually, believe it or not, nice. They almost sounded disappointed by this.

They do suggest that it shows gross mistreatment of illegal aliens. While some abuse is depicted, the film is far from an expose. If you believe a country has the right to enforce their own immigration laws, there is even less to find outrageous here (though certainly Dju’s father is ill-treated). Weird commentary, but a good movie (with a great soundtrack), and evidently not available on DVD and was not released on VHS (whatever that was). It runs again tomorrow at 9:00 and next Friday at midnight.

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