“This Is Congo” is a vivid and immersive — if not all that neatly structured or focused — documentary about the Democratic Republic of Congo, a vast nation that’s been massively steeped in war, brutality, poverty, corruption and humanitarian crises for the last two decades. (It was no great bed of equanimity before that either.)
Director-cinematographer Daniel McCabe profiles four disparate Congolese citizens in an ambitious attempt to paint a kind of big-picture portrait of contemporary life in the besieged country led by unpopular president Joseph Kabila.
McCabe’s subjects include the charismatic Mamadou, a National Army commander who gained rock-star status for fighting Rwanda-fostered M23 rebels; “Kasongo” (an alias), a National Army colonel and ex-rebel who offers sporadic narrative on his homeland’s troubles (voiced by Ivorian actor Isaach de Bankolé); “Mama Romance,” a mineral dealer who skirts the law to provide for her family; and tailor Hakiza, who roams the country, sewing machine in tow, in search of safety.
There’s a randomness and imbalance to these folks’ screen time; Hakiza goes largely forgotten while you-are-there battle footage with Mamadou and his forces overtakes the film’s second half. And despite seemingly frank and vital observations, it’s hard to ascertain anyone’s full level of subjectivity.
Still, their words, backed by often-daunting imagery and disturbing historical perspective (oh, those Belgians!), provide a haunting window into a deeply anarchic world too-rarely glimpsed.
‘This is Congo’
In English, French, Swahili and Lingala with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Starts June 29, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills