Congo in Four Acts -- Film Review

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BERLIN -- Any resident of the affluent "developed" world who feels like complaining about their lot should be forced to watch "Congo in Four Acts" and they'll quickly start counting their blessings. Initiated as an educational project to allow young filmmakers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the former Belgian colony once known as Zaire) to develop their craft. The result is an unpolished gem that should find plenty of exposure at festivals -- not just those favoring documentaries -- and later on the small screen.

Though directed by four individuals, there's a surprising and engaging consistency to an enterprise that was shot on DVCam, before being transferred to Beta-tape. Significant credit belongs to Divita Wa Lusala, at 36 the oldest of the quartet, who also collaborated on cinematography and editing.

On that score, it's unfortunate that the two strongest segments are the shortest:15-minute "Symphony Kinshasa" and 13-minute "After the Mine," both directed by Kiripi Katembo Siku. A 33-year-old painter/photographer making a belatedly auspicious debut as a documentarian, Katembo Siku is the name to watch among the talents showcased here.

"Symphony" is a staggering, anger-rousing tour of the Kinshasa slums, a disgustingly insanitary environment where the crowded population are threatened by a deadly array of health-hazards. "Mine" closes proceedings on a quiet, truly heart-rending note, examining a polluted provincial settlement where young children earn meager "wages" by breaking rocks. "If there is any kind of assistance, we need it, because we're helpless," opines the grandmother of orphan Aimee, as the tot mutely grafts at her mind-numbing daily travails.

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Opener Wa Lusala and Dieudo Hamada's "Ladies in Waiting" (chronicling the bureaucratic dysfunctions of a Kinshasa maternity ward) and Patrick Ken Kalala's "The Shrinking Press" (detailing the persections of journalists), run 24 and 19 minutes respectively, making salient points in conventional, observational style.

Cinema has countless merits and uses, but among its chief strengths is educating viewers about aspects of the world about which they might otherwise be ignorant. "Congo In Four Acts" is a fine example of how the medium can increase awareness and, just possibly, perhaps help alleviate horrendous social problems. Though by no means a perfect example of cinematographic artistry, this film emphatically deserves to be seen.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival -- Forum
Production: Suka!, Cape Town
Directors: Kiripi Katembo Siku, Dieudo Hamadi, Patrick Ken Kalala, Divita Wa Lusala
Producers: Djo Tunda Wa Munga, Steven Markovitz
Directors of photography: Deschamps Matala, Divita Wa Lusala
Editor: Divita Wa Lusala, Ronelle Loots, Frederic Massiot
Sales: Suka!, Cape Town
No rating, 72 minutes
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