Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
CIFF ’16: Gold Coast
nothing like a little colonialism to put some hair on your chest. Arguably, a naïve
botanist like Wulff Frederik Wulff could use a little seasoning, but instead of
adventure, he confronts the Conradian heart of darkness in Daniel Dencik’s Gold Coast (trailer here), which screens
during the 2016 Cleveland International Film Festival.
idealistic Wulff (an amalgam of historical Danish colonial adventurers and
civil servants) has been chartered by the King of Denmark to establish coffee
plantations in Danish Guinea. The Danish colonies are struggling economically
in the wake of the Schimmelmann edict banning the Danish slave trade. However,
there is still a plentiful labor supply, since ownership of slaves has not been
course, Wulff’s reasonably good intentions are quickly dashed upon the rocks of
reality. Although the ailing Governor Mørch is a man of integrity, real power
is wielded by the ruthless Councilor Dall and his thuggish ally, Herbst, who
together embody the worst of Europe. Plagued with constant sabotage from the
Ashanti, Wulff seeks the intercession of notorious trader Henrik Richter, who
clearly has no reservations when it comes to keeping his fellow Africans in
bondage. Although Richter is initially helpful, Wulff will remember the man and
his brand when he encounters a band of illicitly trafficked slaves bearing the
(formerly a documentarian known for Expeditionto the End of the World) could not possibly be any more outraged by
colonial era exploitation. However, Gold
Coast is somewhat (probably accidentally) politically incorrect, starting
with Richter and the forthright depiction African participation in the slave
trade. Most surprisingly, the film’s only truly sympathetic characters are the
much maligned Christian missionaries, who came to save souls, but also want to
break the slaves’ chains. Gold Coast
is a woozy, steamy, sometimes hallucinatory exploration of human nature, but it
has a more forceful narrative drive than Chantal Akerman’s adaptation of Conrad’s
Almayer’s Folly. Still, if you like
the earlier film, you will should appreciate Coast for its similarly mirage-like vibe.
Jakob Oftebro is convincingly earnest and guileless. Frankly, it is not so distressing
to watch his lessons in how the world works in its wilder, more natural state.
Anders Heinrichsen makes quite a sinister cold fish as Dall. In limited screen
time, Wakefield Ackuaku projects a notably malevolent élan as Richter. Somewhat
problematically, the rest of the native populace are basically extras in a story
of Danes behaving badly.
Denmark deserves credit for its historical progressiveness. After all, they did
indeed ban the slave trade in 1792, after the State of Vermont passed abolition
but well before any other European power. It wasn’t a sweeping emancipation,
but it was a crucial early step. Of course, enforcement was a trickier
proposition back then.
Finding the right tone for a colonial-era historical
drama is no easy feat either. Frankly, Gold
Coast is probably too dream-like for its intended purposes, but Dencik
clearly conveys a sense of how heat, humidity, isolation, and alienation
combine to break down mind and spirit. It is a film that earns credit for its
ambition even when it trips over its own feet. Messy and inconsistently
effective from scene to scene, but weirdly lulling as a total viewing
experience, Gold Coast is recommended
for the hardest of hardcore cineastes when it screens this Thursday (3/31) and
Friday (4/1) as part of this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival.
Labels: CIFF '16, Scandinavian Cinema