Black and White in Colour (1976)

“The conviction we hold of our own superiority.”

At a remote outpost in Africa, a handful of French expatriates receive the news that WWI has begun. By the time the news arrives, the war is already well underway. News of the war affects the French citizens in a peculiar way–amid rabid, patriotic cries of “Vive La France”, they decide that it is their duty to attack the German compound a few miles away. Up to this point, the two groups have enjoyed a profitable relationship–with the Germans buying all their supplies from the French. During business transactions, the French merchants and their plump, semi-dressed wives shake their heads at the Germans and their serious approach to life. The French don’t understand the Germans, but they are content to do business together. But news of a distant war alters friendships ….

The French number 9 people–various merchants, a studious young man, Socialist Hubert Fresnoy (Jacques Spiesser), and two grasping, self-serving priests. Meanwhile there are only three Germans–and most of their days are spent marching around and disciplining the natives. The French have a different approach to the natives–this varies from lackadaisical to exploitive–they evidently don’t approve of the manner in which the Germans act. But when the stakes change, and the French expatriates declare war on the German compound, then the French suddenly have no compunctions whatsoever in exploiting the natives as “recruits” in the most brutal ways.

Black and White in Colour is a fierce anti-war film wrapped up in a critique of Western colonialism (note the words of the songs the natives sing). From director Jean Annaud, the film’s dark humour and nihilistic approach make for great entertainment. The story shifts from foreigners sharing space on a distant continent, through the insanity of plunging into war, and then even covers the beginnings of a petty despot. This is a blistering examination of the madness, destruction and utter waste of war, and it’s delivered deftly enough to make this one of the most enjoyable anti-war films you’ll probably ever see. The parallels to the insanity of WWI are inescapable–complete with the misery of rain-drenched trenches. This is war and human nature in a nutshell.

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Filed under (Anti) War, France, Political/social films

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