WATANI: A WORLD WITHOUT EVIL.
(WATANI: UN MONDE SANS MAL)
(DRAMA - FRENCH - B&W/COLOR)
An MH Films release (in France) of an MH Films production. (International sales: MH Films, Paris.)
Produced, directed, written by Med Hondo. Camera (B&W/color), Olivier Drouot; editor, Laure Budin; music, Raoul Barboza, Ahmed Daye, Passi, Arsenik, Jacques Ivan Duchesne, Les Neg Marrons, Costa Papadoukas, Serge Urge-Royo; art director, Denis Moutereau; costume designer, Maratier; sound, Patrick Marre. Reviewed at Action Christine, Paris, June 13, 1999. Running time: 78 MIN.
With: Patrick Poivey, Coumba Awa Tall, Mboup Massyla, Anne Jolivet, James Campbell, Sabine Lods.
Rough-hewn, sincere and completely unpretentious, "Watani: A World Without Evil" uses blunt, efficient strokes to paint parallel portraits of two men with families -- one black, one white -- who lose their jobs on the same day in Paris. Using very little dialogue and blanketing the proceedings with music from rap to blues, pic, blown up from digital video, is extremely uneven but packs a wallop when the elements coalesce. Fest exposure is indicated.
Upon its initial brief release in March 1998, this seventh feature from self-financed, Mauritanian-born indie filmer Med Hondo was hobbled by a "violence" warning imposed by France's National Center for Cinema. Arguing that the so-called violence in his movie is the horror present in daily life, Hondo waged a seven-month, successful campaign to repeal the obligatory warning. Hondo took the commercially brave step of re-releasing his film in early June, and has attracted small but respectable audiences.
Pic's two protags cope differently with being sacked. When the white banking exec can't find a new job, he falls in with a racist crowd at a sleazy watering hole and joins in their lethal nocturnal attacks on lone blacks and Arabs. Rendered homeless, the African street sweeper runs into administrative roadblocks, and is eventually forced to take refuge in a church. (Helmer incorporates docu footage of marches and demonstrations in support of long-term alien residents who have been denied permanent legal status.)
The white guy lies to his wife, who's wheelchair-bound after a terrorist attack, and pampers his two daughters as he sinks into a secret life of depravity. The black guy, wife and kids retain their dignity and find a measure of support from other financially stranded immigrants.
Hondo, who obviously takes societal injustice personally, tackles the legacy of slavery and colonialism along with the extreme rightwing attitudes bred by unemployment. Pic is mostly in B&W, with interstitial oil paintings bursting forth in vivid color. Tech aspects and much of the acting are merely adequate, but pic's uncompromising look at the rise of fascism and racism in a country that claims to champion human rights remains a powerful conversation starter.