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BERLINALE 2024 Panorama

Review: Rising up at Night


- BERLINALE 2024: The new offering from Nelson Makengo attempts to convey what it’s like to live in a constantly dark and flooded Kinshasa

Review: Rising up at Night

“A house without electricity is a house without joy,” says one of the voices emerging from a pitch-black screen at the beginning of Rising up at Night [+see also:
interview: Nelson Makengo
film profile
, a documentary by Nelson Makengo that had its world premiere in the Berlinale’s Panorama section. Almost the entire film is shrouded in darkness and steeped in the waters of the River Congo, in the aftermath of it flooding Kinshasa.

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The camera follows a group of locals as they try to navigate their lives while preparing for Christmas, fighting to get new cables that will help them to get their electricity back and avoid the dangers lurking in the impenetrable darkness – dangers like rapists hunting for girls and women, for whom the night provides cover, or holes that people can tumble into. In the blackness of the night, a flashlight is – sometimes literally – a life saver and a light sabre to fight off the terrors. And there is little hope for outside help, as prosperous empires like China, which wants to build a hydro-electric power plant in the Democratic Republic of Congo, step back from it.

As Makengo – who is a Berlinale Talents 2020 alumnus – shows, the members of the local community can count on each other, as one of them collects money for the new cables. They also look for support in the Christian faith, begging Jesus for pity, mercy and forgiveness. At the same time, life goes on, and people go to a makeshift gym, float around the neighbourhood on a boat and run errands.

Rising up at Night is a very modest, observational documentary that focuses on a community left alone with two disasters – a natural and an artificial one – dominating their lives. The sheer lack of spectacular events is an artistic choice, since it becomes clear over the running time that Makengo’s objective is to allow the audience to get a glimpse of what it may feel like to exist in complete darkness. Indeed, the director stitches together only scenes filmed at night, made with no additional sources of light. His documentary, in a way, melts away into the blackness of the screening room, as one’s eyes can only adapt to these specific viewing conditions up to a point. It’s also a curious, if a tad theoretical, experiment: how can you connect to a person, or a protagonist in the film, if you can barely see them?

Sadly, the situation in Kinshasa hasn’t improved a great deal since Makengo turned off his camera, as the country was hit by another disastrous flood in early February, mere weeks before Rising up at Night’s Berlinale premiere. Joy is clearly still absent.

Rising up at Night is a collaboration between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Belgium, Germany, Burkina Faso and Qatar. Twenty Nine Studio & Production produced the film together with Mutotu Productions, with Film Five, Magellan Films, Auguste Orts, RTBF and Diam Production serving as co-producers. Worldwide rights are with Square Eyes.

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