N - The Madness Of Reason


Reviewed by: Robert Munro

N - The Madness Of Reason
"A truly remarkable film."

When death finally points its crooked finger your way, what will you make of the life you’ve lived? How will you measure your accomplishments? How will your brief existence on this minute rock in infinite space resist the erosion of time? These are the questions posed but not necessarily answered by N: The Madness of Reason, a formally exuberant film set in West Africa.

The film’s principle subject is the life and work of Frenchman Raymond Borremans, who left Europe after the carnage of the Great War for a lifetime of travelling Africa, chronicling his adventure in a number of different ways. One of which was to begin an Encyclopaedia of Ivory Coast, an A-to-Z of everything that defines the country and, by extension, Borremans’ life. However, Borremans died at the letter ’N’, his work incomplete. Therefore the film’s narrative progresses with Borremans’ soul in limbo, heard in voiceover, not content to move in to the deep dark abyss without a final sense of definition, of understanding. His journey takes in the sights, sounds and people that have contributed to his existence and his African experience.

Yet the film does not simply resurrect a previous vision of Africa (Borremans died in 1988). This is about the present and the future. This is brilliantly articulated through scenes in which we see Africans on a train, rattling along the land’s vast wildernesses. They’re smoking, talking, staring out the window. And then we’re plunged into the rotting, rusting husk of a carriage representative of the frailty of memory and the ruin of nostalgia. The woman with whom Borremans’ restless spirit interprets this dream of a film chides him for seeking the past.

There are several such moments of joyous cinema in which the philosophical meditations of Borremans and his cyphers on earth - scripted by novelist and poet Ben Okri and director Peter Krüger - coincide with a luxurious and languorous visual style which seemed reminiscent of Terrence Malick during his finest indulgences. Scores of beaming child faces watch as a mobile cinema - a sheet of canvas stretched over a metal framework - regales the audience with Buster Keaton’s drooping and haphazard misfortunes. The camera floats through the audience as the light from the projector details the innocent delight of the youths, drinking in classic cinema.

Another sumptuous scene takes us into a glamorous hotel for Westerners and Presidential bigwigs. Borremans recalls playing here with his banjo in his younger days. But we are in the recent past, and a local band plays. The lead singer is hypnotic with her gentle swaying and alluring vocals. She’s reflected in a multitude of mirrors, fragments of a vision and of a memory which eventually disappear from view. Yet such moments of joy are contrasted with the horrors of civil war, with bodies upon bodies piled up as a journalist compiles the footage. Later we see the singer again, dancing in a nightclub. She no longer sings - all is lost.

A truly remarkable film which manages to provide a poetic examination of Africa, with all its beauty and horrors, yet manages to balance such grandiose ambitions with an examination of the most intimate details which make up a life and its legacy.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2014
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Drawing connections between European adventurer Raymond Borremans and present-day Africa.

Director: Peter Krüger

Starring: Michael Lonsdale, Wendyam Sawadogo

Year: 2014

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: Belgium, Germany, Netherlands


BIFF 2014
EIFF 2014

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