“We thought we controlled our destiny.”
Haitian director, Raoul Peck’s film Lumumba charts the life of revolutionary Patrice Lumumba from the time he first steps into politics in the Belgium-ruled colony of Congo until his untimely death in January 1961 at the age of 35. Like other revolutionaries before him, he wanted to make a difference. He entered the political system he wanted to change and was destroyed by it. The startling element in Lumumba’s case is the swiftness of his destruction. He served as the first elected prime minister in the newly independent Congo for a period of two short months before he was murdered.
The story of Lumumba’s early political career is extremely weak. It’s unclear how and why he entered politics or why, within a few scenes, he is rousted from home and thrown in prison where he rots for 6 months. The film covers some obviously strategic political moments (Lumumba’s speech) but there are huge gaps–especially when concerning Lumumba’s early political involvement. After the elections, it’s also unclear what devious schemes are going on behind Lumumba’s back. The country is in chaos, and Lumumba cannot control it, but the film fails to address Lumumba’s politics or policies in a meaningful way. And this is more than unfortunate as events, responsibility, etc. remain rather muddy.
About half way through the film, the Russians and the CIA begin meddling in Congo’s affairs. The story becomes very interesting, and suddenly the details of exactly who opposes who are not so important anymore. Apparently, the director’s cut for this film was 3 hours. My DVD version was 115 minutes. In the final analysis, it’s very unfortunate that scenes of the wife hanging out laundry, and the child posing for photos were included in the film while much more relevant (and clarifying details) were ignored. In 1992, Raoul Peck made the documentary film: Lumumba: Death of a Prophet. Given the scope and complexity of Lumumba’s story, the pure documentary film is probably the better approach. Lumumba in French with English subtitles, offered fine acting, and splendid sets, but was too thin on the substance.