On the Rumba River illuminates a culture’s means of political response via communal expression through music. When not gazing sorrowfully at the Congo river (overwhelmed by garbage and wrecked steamships, the relics of an industry once vital to the economy of his homeland), local songwriting legend Antoine Kolosoy recollects his past experiences with music and oppression, such as how religious officials declared his music the work of the devil, or when Belgian colonial soldiers killed a friend over the performance of a song in their native tongue when such was expressly forbidden by ruling law. Now a free state, genocide and war continue to plague the Congo’s people, who are reduced to poverty by corrupt government officials but never stripped of their joyous spirit. Looked unto as a father by many, Antoine—more commonly known as Papa Wendo—is a source of tireless insight and inspiration for those around him, resourceful and humorously mischievous, even as a tired old man. Director Jacques Sarasin could have kept the film focused solely on Wendo’s life as a musician in traditional character-study fashion, but instead fascinatingly reveals his place in the world as a celebrity amid social chaos; a montage of murals featuring key events and persons from history (among them, images of genocide and dictator Mobutu Sese Seko) recasts Wendo’s story as but another link in a chain of causes and effects, carried on like a torch by future generations. “Our politicians need to get out of their offices, to stop looking at state money,” says Wendo in a bittersweet pontification, but not before an entrancing, prolonged sequence of song and dance that finds him leading his fellow citizens to a kind of spiritual immunity not unlike the climax from Ousmane Sembène’s great Moolaadé. It’s an empowering scene but also a disturbing one, seeing as how little has changed since Wendo hit the big time decades beforehand, a cycle of self-reinforcing social currents best encapsulated by the cutaway shot of a two people in a boat, rowing ceaselessly against the current, moving neither forward nor back.
- First Run Features
- 82 min
- Jacques Sarasin
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