on June 22, 2001 by Jordan Reed
   They say power corrupts, and it's sad to see how often that cliché winds up coming to pass. Even worse is when widespread influence brings out the best in a person, but his untainted vision and intensity jeopardize the comfort and security of the small-minded, fearful bureaucrats around him, leading to his downfall.

   Winner of the Best Feature award at this year's Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles, "Lumumba" tells the true tale of Patrice Lumumba, the political activist who rose to prominence during the Congo's struggle to gain its independence from Belgium in 1960. Eventually seen as a threat by the still-involved Belgians, to international interests, and even to his own colleagues, Lumumba was assassinated a mere nine months after becoming his nation's first Prime Minister.

   In his haste to get to the meat of his fictionalized story, director and co-writer Raoul Peck--who also helmed the 1991 documentary "Lumumba--Death of a Prophet"--skips over some significant information that would have strengthened his account, including that of its main character's rise to power and respect in his community. One minute Patrice is hawking local beer in the town of Leopoldsville, and the next he's jailed for being a leading force in the Congo's fight for independence. There's only a cursory depiction of the supposed charisma that influenced his constituency--not to take away from Eric Ebouaney's impassioned performance in the title role--and of the part the U.S. played in his eventual downfall.

   Even with those omissions, however, "Lumumba" remains a tellingly discouraging testament to the inherently complicated and manipulative workings of a formerly subjugated culture not fully freed from its oppressors. Perhaps more importantly, it also addresses colonialism's infectious corruptibility transmitted to once-heroic political revolutionaries who fail to put their people first, and how those fallen leaders can crush the singular man who attempts to use his newfound power for the common good.    Starring Eriq Ebouaney, Alex Descas and Theophile Moussa Sowie. Directed by Raoul Peck. Written by Raoul Peck and Pascal Bonitzer. Produced by Jacques Bidou. A Zeitgeist release. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 113 min.

Tags: French, foreign, Raoul Peck, Eriq Ebouaney, Alex Descas, Theophile Moussa Sowie, political, activism

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