Dark on Dark: When solitude lights up the night
- Lo Thivolle debuts at Visions du Réel with a documentary about the exceptional bravery of an old faculty acquaintance who currently lives on the fringes of society
When French filmmaker Lo Thivolle was studying at the University of Toulouse, he met a Nigerian boy, living in France, who was completing his doctoral degree in the same faculty. Years later, destiny brought Boureima and Lo Thivolle together again. But this time, it would not be in a respected academic environment, but rather on a bench in a square from where the African man (who is now homeless) watches the world go by every day. It is this second accidental encounter that spawned Dark on Dark [+see also:
film profile], the feature debut by Thivolle, presented in the Regard Neuf section of Visions du Réel: it is a kind of tribute to the courage of the director’s old acquaintance, who decided to voluntarily distance himself from society.
The reason for the ex-doctoral student’s isolation is not revealed during the entirety of Dark on Dark. It could have been caused by a traumatic event, general disenchantment or simple acute misanthropy, but the reason is irrelevant since the whole purpose of the documentary is to capture the unique moments of this austere, almost mystical life, chosen freely and happily by this scholar on the streets of an unnamed French town. Thus, in this impeccable debut, whose French title, La nuit éclaire la nuit, is borrowed from a chapter of the famous book by Roland Barthes A Lover's Discourse: Fragments, we will observe Boureima in all kinds of situations: from his sacred hours of reading and writing sat at the computers of the public library in this anonymous municipality, to celebrating when he finds bananas that have been thrown away into a bin. Thivolle combines this series of everyday scenes with other evocative shots of the protagonist strolling through parks in his best clothes, or shots accompanied by stimulating monologues on politics, religion and existentialism, and film lessons that this wise recluse regales us with: he is the only one capable of revealing the undetectable similarities between the western and documentary genres.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that Thivolle does not overlook the protagonist’s status as a foreigner. He avoids using the paternalistic perspective that is normally found in films about immigrants who embrace poverty after failing in their multiple attempts to live life just like the natives. Thus, instead of delving into Boureima’s unwholesome past whilst he was in Nigeria in order to awaken the viewer’s social conscience, the filmmaker takes another route. Thivolle brings to light an unusual fact about his former classmate’s family. Apparently, Boureima’s father was the king of a tribe and, in turn, is the protagonist of the iconic ethnographic documentary Les Temps du pouvoir, filmed by Eliane de Latour in the 1980s. Being exceptional is just something that runs through Boureima’s veins. And, going back to Barthes’ text, this magical anomaly enables him to be at peace as he lives in what we metaphorically call ‘darkness’.
The film was produced by Thivolle’s own company, Numéro zéro, which is also responsible for its sales.
(Translated from Spanish)
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