This Magnificent Cake!


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

This Magnificent Cake
"Offering the comfort and reassurance of a Seventies children's TV programme, it takes us into the heat of darkness in a bumbling, offbeat way."

Talk about the mass detention, torture and murder of millions of innocent human beings and most people think first of the Holocaust; yet it has often been said that this would not have been possible without the example set by colonial forces in Africa in the previous century. The only reason that it is not remembered in the same manner is that those who died were dark skinned and nobody kept records of their names. Every European country that sought to exploit the wealth of that continent had blood on its hands, but nothing else came close to the horrors wrought by King Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo, which is still suffering directly connected strife to this day.

"I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake," Leopold famously said.

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This Magnificent Cake! is a curious affair - an anthology film whose stories are told entirely through the actions of fuzzy woollen puppets on sets composed of various woven and tufted fabrics. One might think it inappropriate to remember such an ugly time with quirky animation of this type, and yet against all odds, there's something about it that works. Its strangeness ensures that we always feel like aliens in this landscape and thus, from the outset, acquire something of the perspective of both the invaders and the invaded. Offering the comfort and reassurance of a Seventies children's TV programme, it takes us into the heart of darkness in a bumbling, offbeat way that invites us to think about the misunderstandings, incompetence and personal greed that always cluster around and complicate horrors on this scale.

There are five stories in all, set in a luxury hotel and the jungle surrounding it. Many of the characters are familiar archetypes: a foolishly ambitious treasure hunter, a spoiled child casually abusing animals and servants. None of the stories has a happy ending. The Congolese characters have a pleasing complexity, with ideas and ambitions of their own that let us get to know them rather than seeing them simply as statistics in the greater tragedy. The result of all this is endearing, entertaining and grim all at the same time.

The visual landscape is amazing and endlessly creative. In one scene a fuzzy spindle, turning, provides a remarkable impression of a waterfall, almost sufficient in its charm to distract us from the ugly events taking place on the bridge above it. Elsewhere, a failed businessman maddened by drink befriends a snail (a creature once used to symbolise avarice) and every part of his house begins to exhibit snail-like characteristics, conjuring up a sort of fuzzy felt Uzumaki.

Madness is everywhere here but it is never used as an excuse. The comedic elements simply make it feel more real, more human. The result is something unique.

Reviewed on: 02 Mar 2019
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This Magnificent Cake! packshot
A five-part anthology featuring a troubled king, a failed businessman and an army deserter in stories that reflect the cruelty of 19th Century colonialism, told using stop-motion puppets.

Director: Marc James Roels, Emma De Swaef

Writer: Marc James Roels, Emma De Swaef

Starring: Gaston Motambo, Wim Willaert, Goua Grovogui

Year: 2018

Runtime: 44 minutes

Country: Belgium, France, Netherlands

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