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REVIEWS


COMPETITION


Ger-Fr-Neth. 2011. 91mins Director/screenplay Ulrich Köhler Production company Komplizen Film GmbH International sales The Match Factory, www. the-match-factory.com Producers Janine Jackowski, Maren Ade, Katrin Schlösser Cinematography Patrick Orth Editors Katharina Wartena, Eva Könnemann Production designer Jochen Dehn Main cast Pierre Bokma, Jean-Christophe Folly, Jenny Schily, Hippolyte Girardot, Sava Lolov, Francis Noukiatchom


Sleeping Sickness REVIEWED BY DAN FAINARU


Politically correct to a fault and dramatically limp throughout, Ulrich Köhler’s Sleeping Sickness (Schlafkrankheit) may well generate lots of intellectual observations about the role of West- ern aid in Africa, but will not raise the pulse of an audience. A follower of the passivity school which seems to be popular


among German arthouse directors, Köhler’s picture deals with familiar and well-explored themes, but the apathetic congrega- tion of characters he uses to put his ideas across requires no real effort from the cast and expects no real identification from the viewer. Though festivals may well be attracted by the political relevance of the subject matter, the market options are pretty slim and rest mostly with television. Eddo Velten (Bokma) has been managing a sleeping sickness


programme in Cameroon for years, but his wife Vera (Schily) decides to return to their home town in Germany. Though Eddo realises it is his time to return as well, he gives in to temptation and stays on in Africa, continuing the scheme and joining forces with Frenchman Gaspard (Girardot) — a typical European vul- ture preying on Africa’s natural resources — who intends to start his own plantation and needs Velten to manage it. Three years later, a Paris-born African doctor, Alex Nzila


(Folly), is sent to evaluate the sleeping sickness programme, which benefits from considerable funds from the European community, and discovers the supposed epidemic has been under control for years and there is no reason to pursue it when aid is needed elsewhere. Köhler, who was born in Africa and spent his childhood there,


is obviously familiar with the territory and issues. He started the film after visiting his parents, who still live there, shooting most of the picture in the hospital where they work. This may explain the feeling for the lay of the land, which avoids picture-postcard clichés. None of his characters exude any kind of distinct personality


or show any real determination to achieve their goals. Even Gaspard, an unscrupulous profiteer who should be out for a quick buck, does not seem to be in any particular hurry to finish building his plantation. Bokma, whose character is supposed to realise he has


betrayed his African dream and lost his European identity, is expected to carry most of the film on his shoulders but seems far too exhausted for the job, while the rest of the cast never have sufficient screen time to develop real characters.


SCREEN SCORE n 16 Screen International in Berlin February 13, 2011 ★★


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