RIDM Screening 84: A jamais, pour toujours

Confession: I am basically posting this for good form, because it is a documentary that I saw, and thus feel obligated to include it in the series. (Plus, duh, I like bragging about all these awesome films I’m seeing. Aren’t you tempted to move to Montreal now so you can watch great documentaries and go to jazz festivals and, oh man, just wait ’til you see the book festival coverage I’m going to throw your way…they’re doing a spotlight on Haitian authors this year…I know, right?)

Alexandra Sicotte-Lévesque directed this film, which is confusingly titled “A jamais, pour toujours” in French and “The Longest Kiss” in English. The latter refers to a pronouncement that the Nile River joins (sort of?) Sudan to the newly created South Sudan, in a long goodbye kiss. Which is beautiful. The narration that went along with the film (we never have any idea who is speaking it) is a wonderful poetic reflection on the history of Sudan’s conflicts and the recent secession of South Sudan. Another beautiful thing: the cinematography. The webpage description (and I’m endlessly fascinated by these) describes the film as a “an essential look at an often misunderstood and tragically ignored country.” I would say that for all of the random media flashes we get that loudly proclaim the “genocide” and “chaos” and “cautious optimism” and “tribal clashes” and many other things that you typically hear about African countries in the news, it is, indeed, necessary to stop for a minute and see an intelligent exploration of how people are going about their daily lives in current Sudan and South Sudan. Yes, people are killed, and violence disrupts an entire country, but there are people who live as well. And that seems to be the goal of this film – to show that people continue to live.

It begins with the story of a young man’s broken heart and his role as “adviser” on a radio show dedicated to solving people’s romantic problems. Then there is a woman whose mother is Muslim and whose father is Christian, struggling against prejudice in Khartoum. A doctor who chooses to cover herself completely except for the eyes follows. One of the refugees from the 80’s who returned to become a medical practitioner and then was voted into Parliament tells her story of growing up in Cuba. There is a little boy who was adopted by a Spanish family in Juba after his village was attacked and pillaged. These are GREAT stories. However, in the goal of showing people living instead of concentrating on things like death tolls, we have essentially no idea what these people have survived for the last 30 years and continue to survive.

jamais toujours

This documentary’s purpose was a bit unclear. As I’ve said, my impression is that it was meant to be a “human interest story” in which personal accounts of daily life in Sudan are favored above explanations of the tumultuous political situation. Except that every once in awhile, the screen fades to black and flashes (very quickly I might add) a serious of chronological facts about the recent history of the country – meaning, events that took place from 1989-2013. Unfortunately, these events seemed to have been randomly chosen and only vaguely related to the stories on which most of the film concentrated.

I have to admit, the reason I dragged myself and my husband out on a dreary, cold Monday night to see the film in the first place was that we both read Dave Eggers’ What is the What this summer. Which was brilliant. So now, obviously, we’re both experts on Sudan’s history. Well…no…which was exactly why we wanted to see the documentary. To…you know…learn things.

Are you reading this, director Alexandra Sicotte-Lévesque?  I highly doubt it, but if so, I hope that doesn’t sound like too much of a criticism. Major props for making a documentary about a place that really doesn’t get enough good coverage in the news, but dude…I was a little overwhelmed. Any single story line out of those many which were thrown upon the screen could have made for a fascinating documentary, exploring not only a family’s or an individual’s struggle through war and triumph through everyday life in Sudan, but could have also explained an extremely complicated political situation to a bunch of people who might not know the first thing about Sudan. (I mean…c’mon…most people haven’t even read What is the What…)

3 responses to “RIDM Screening 84: A jamais, pour toujours”

  1. Funny enough, I am reading this! And with a group of friends, completely randomly. We`re not sure if you liked the film or not… but in any case, thanks for taking the time to think and write about it! Best, Alexandra

    • Haha! Well, I did not think you would actually read this little review, but thank you for taking the time! I really enjoyed the documentary. Like I said, it was wonderful to gain a more complex view of a place that is so continuously represented solely as violent and backwards in the media. What you’re doing is extremely important. My one criticism of an otherwise amazing film was that there seemed to be a few too many stories thrown together. I thought maybe the film could have achieved a bit more of an in-depth and complex look at the country by following the stories of just one or two families. Their stories were spread somewhat thin, and then interspersed with facts and figures rather than integrally woven into the events of Sudan’s recent history. It was a great film, but maybe not the film that I thought I was going to see. Having said all of that, I certainly look forward to seeing more of your work, and thanks again for reading and commenting.

      • Thank you for this! I have to say I agree with your comments–it was not an easy film to make, and especially not an easy one to edit! But at the end of the day, I think this is the best film we could do. One or two families would have not been able to carry a 74 min film and my goal was to show the the wide-range of complexities in both Sudans… I needed to show the Northern/muslim perspective, for both a man and a woman, the perspective of someone who is stuck in the “middle”, one of a displaced child and one of someone who finally returns to South Sudan after 20 years as a refugee… and we had to give the Darfuri a voice. So yes, that’s a lot of stories and by trying not to be bias in the perspectives I offered, I may have overdone it–but all of these stories give a glimpse of the issues at stake. The facts and figures were there to put these stories into context–as you say most don’t know anything about Sudan. The stories were woven around the timeline (2009-2011) of the looming secession and the direct or indirect impact it has on each of them… But of course one cannot explain a country, and especially not a place like Sudan in only 74 min. And so, my hope was to give a voice to people who are never heard, to shed some light, and to bring people closer through universal themes…
        Voila! Thanks again for this and also for coming out on a dreary Monday evening!!!

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