Introduction by Aboubakar Sanogo
With Robert Liensol, Théo Légitimus, Ambroise M’Bia.
Mauritania/France, 1970, DCP, black & white, 98 min.
French and Arabic with English subtitles.
DCP source: Janus Films
Soleil O is Med Hondo’s inaugural feature masterpiece, which earned him the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival in 1970, and instantly secured his place as one of the giants of African and world cinema. A loosely constructed narrative of the travails of an accountant confidently arriving in Paris to pursue his dreams, the film meticulously uncovers the challenges he faces including racial, housing and employment discrimination along with sexual objectification. For Med Hondo, filming the migrant condition entails going beyond consequences and analyzing (using caustic humor and imagination) causalities—which include colonialism, the structures of capitalism and the implications of neocolonialism—in order to effect change. Soleil O remains as acute, timely and relevant in the 21st century as it was at the time of its release five decades ago.
The film announces the arrival of a maverick director intent on taking on the very form of the medium. He makes a virtuoso use of digression and “unmotivated” non-diegetic inserts as part of his deployment and celebration of orature as an inexhaustible reservoir and resource for cinematic renewal and experimentation, “condensatory” and abstractive communicative symbolism, cinema verité, and Eisensteinian montage, among other formal strategies. This is a film that immediately partakes in the modernist pantheon of the cinema.
Soleil O was also the inaugural restoration of the then-newly launched African Film Heritage Project (AFHP), a partnership project between the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI) (of which Med Hondo was an eminent member), Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation, and UNESCO to restore fifty African films of historical, cultural and artistic significance.