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On June 30 1960, thirty-six year-old Patrice Lumumba (Eriq Ebouaney) became the first Prime Minister of Congo. He lasted two months before he was executed. Lumumba's brutally slain corpse narrates the story of the beer salesman who rose through the ranks of the Congolese National Movement in the 1950s to lead the former Belgian colony as a newly independent nation. 

Review by Louise Keller:
Powerful and moving on every level, Lumumba is an important story that finally has been told. While my interest may be more personal and profound than for many – I lived in Elisabethville, the capital of Katanga before and after Independence Day (June 30, 1960), – the film is a gripping portrait of a man of honour and courage, who did not compromise his ideals. I was an impressionable child acquiring indelible memories of an idyllic lifestyle and the contrasting terror and horrors of civil war. I found many of the early scenes in the film, which painted only too well the lifestyle, mood and atmosphere of life in the Belgian Congo, almost too real to bear. Small things like the authenticity of the radios, the clothes, the army uniforms, the cars, (Sabena) airline, the Belgian french and the music. 

Raoul Peck's insightful film plucks the salient points of events political and personal, and integrates them into a thoroughly compelling, if disturbing political drama. The issues of discrimination, conflict, power struggles and revolts are canvassed as a matter of fact. Even the scenes that give glimpses of Lumumba, the man, in his personal life, are understated. One such scene finds him at his wife's bedside, when their fatally ill newly born daughter was sent to Switzerland for treatment. There is a moment filled with tenderness, sadness and total helplessness. The events concerning Tshombe, Kasavubu and Mobutu reveal themselves to be some of the most extraordinary in political history, and the shocking conclusion to this story is truly unforgettable. For those interested in politics, history or humanity, don't miss this film. It offers a great insight into not only an extraordinary man, but into a whole nation and events that marked this unique continent forever.

Some excellent special features augment this DVD package that is thoroughly recommended. Africa has become the proverbial ‘hot potato’, tells Raoul Peck in one of the five excerpts from his 1991 documentary. There’s something very poignant in the way Peck recounts the history of how the small country of Belgium came to be given the Congo. As told to him by his mother: ‘Once upon a time, a King desired a country 80 times larger than his own,’ he says. ‘He made such a fuss at the Berlin conference, that he was given the Congo in the hope that he would choke trying to swallow such a big cake… 75 years later, his grandson Baudoin had no choice but to give it back.’ It’s a very personal story in which Peck tells about the photograph of Lumumba that his mother found in a dusty drawer. It was the first time he had heard the name and he still has kept the photo.
‘The way the Belgians rule is simple,’ his mother told him, in another excerpt: ‘treat the negroes well, but keep them stupid…’

In text, you can read details outlining a brief history of the Congo prior to its independence, and The Congolese Chronology begins in 1885, marking the date when the Congo became the personal property of Belgium’s King Leopold II. It is impossible not to be moved, when reading Lumumba’s last letter, written to his wife just before his death. This is a truly exceptional DVD and deserves attention.

Published October 30, 2003

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CAST: Eriq Ebouaney, Alex Descas, Théophile Sowié, Maka Kotto, Mariam Kaba

DIRECTOR: Raoul Peck

SCRIPT: Pascal Bonitzer, Raoul Peck

RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

PRESENTATION: Anamorphic widescreen 16 ; 9

SPECIAL FEATURES: Trailer; Lumumba’s last letter; History of the Congo; Chronology of Events; Excerpts from Raoul Peck’s Documentary; Lumumba Death of a Prophet

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: October 20, 2003


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