West Indies

Screening on Film
Directed by Med Hondo.
With Robert Liensol, Roland Bertin, Hélène Vincent.
France/Algeria/Mauritania, 1979, 35mm, color, 113 min.
French with English subtitles.
Print source: HFA

By all measures one of Med Hondo’s lasting masterpieces, West Indies is a visually and aurally stunning musical appropriately set on a giant slave ship symbolizing the relationship between Africa, Europe and the Caribbean. Placing the ship in an abandoned Citroën factory, Hondo highlights the foundational role of the so-called triangular Atlantic slave trade in the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the emergence and rise to power of the bourgeoisie, massive urbanization, the appearance of modernity and the global spread of capitalism. Hondo explores parallels, indeed, an unbroken historical continuum between the forced migration of the Atlantic slave trade and the more recent migration of Afro-Caribbean subjects to former colonial metropoles.

In this explosive demonstration of virtuosity, Hondo deftly takes advantage of the staging, framing and montage possibilities of filming in one location and in widescreen format to tell four centuries of history through genial tracking shots—well-crafted with exquisite and geometrically precise high-angle, horizontal and vertical long takes—as well as changes in temporality through camera movement, lush colors and poignant lyrics and choreographies that invite the spectator to join in the struggle to transform the world. The film ends with a dizzying 360-degree rotating shot celebrating revolt and marking the demise of the ship and the entire system it represents, arguably offering one of the most vertiginous closing sequences in film history.

With West Indies, Med Hondo confirms his status as one of the incontrovertible masters of cinema. Sergei Eisenstein, who directed The Battleship Potemkin (1925), would have been proud to see his experiment taken to a much higher, further and more complex level.


  • The Making of West Indies

    France/Algeria/Mauritania, 1979, digital video, color, 25 min.

Taken during the filming of West Indies, this film shows the making of the monumental set in the middle of the former Citroën factory, as well as backstage activity and rehearsals on the set.

The identification of certain people on the screen was made possible thanks to the help of François Catonné, Mariann Mathéus and Abdoul War. The authors of the images remain unknown to this day.

This digitization was made in 2023 from two 16mm silent work prints in mediocre condition at Ciné-Archives. The raw material was edited to about forty minutes, with some of the sound taken from the original magnetic tapes, not synchronized. Due to the degraded state of the tapes, a few passages remain silent.

The film features, in order of appearance, François Catonné, Med Hondo, Jean-Paul Meurisse, Anne Trigaux, Brigitte Hédou, Philippe Clévenot, Hélène Vincent, Roland Bertin, Jean-Paul Denizon, Robert Liensol, Franck Valmont, Kassimo Sterling, Gabriel Glissant, Jean Léon, Beb Guerin, Blanche Lollia, Josy Mass, Claude Danabé, Fatiha Rahou, Cyril Aventurin, Djiby Mbodj, Martine Uzan, Linda Dingwall and Jean-Pierre Jerko. – Annabelle Aventurin

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