DIFF student review – The President: A satirical attack on Cameroon’s leader

2013-07-25 16:05

City Press is proud to host emerging young film writers from the Talent Press programme at the Durban International Film Festival.

Shot in a savvy style that combines realism and fiction, the 65-minute feature Le President (The President) is a satirical attack on President Paul Biya whose 31-year reign has come under serious international scrutiny.

Biya has been accused of abetting polarisation, fuelling corruption and, above all, being a punitive dictator with no tolerance for opposition.

Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s controversial film chronicles a political crisis in Cameroon following the disappearance of the president (played by Gerard Essomba) shortly before national elections. It is later revealed the president had gone into self-imposed exile upon realising he wouldn’t survive people power.

Making the film has come at a price. It has been denied screening on most platforms in Cameroon, and its cast and crew continue to endure persecution.

Some international festivals, including the Durban International Film Festival, have screened it.

In the fictional universe, with the despot gone, young Cameroonians for the first time have a right to voice their grievances, ranging from a lack of education, unemployment, poverty, a poor health system and arrogance of the ruling government.

These injustices are mainly told through the media, with a comical journalist named Jo Woo’du taking the lead in mocking the exiled president on national TV.

Another key figure in the film is real-life Cameroonian rapper Velsero who is depicted challenging the president on good governance during a bizarre one-on-one meeting held in a dilapidated inner city neighbourhood.

Other key characters in the film are political prisoners, including the president’s former confidant, who was sent to the coolers the moment he started questioning his friend’s unconstitutional policies.

Worth noting is the film’s strong portrayal of female characters – including the president’s ex-wife and chief advisor – as an embodiment of change, wisdom, courage and democracy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVrNxId-cQU

The film makes strong use of music, with Velsero’s razor-sharp lyrics holding Biya up for public scrutiny. In one recurrent song, the young artist raps about a population that is tired of a leader who never fulfilled his pledge of healing Cameroon from its colonial hangovers: “Enough is enough ... Mr President, your system is weak. Let me tell you what the young people are thinking … You are said to be the lion … and their dream is to kill the lion.”

The director’s excessive use of satire makes the movie more of a dark comedy than a serious assessment of a head of state who has been accused of rigging elections to stay in power.

But it can be seen as a call for change in Cameroon.

» Polly Kamukama (Uganda) is one of four Talent Press Durban participants.

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