The filmmaker and their double
OM: With Godard, we see the kind of naïve error that consists in believing that a rather puerile reversal – it’s the Black person teaching now – can suffice to dismantle the mechanisms of colonial authority and to dissimulate who has the power to constitute a scene of representation and authority. How do you confront this question in your film?
VM: Omar has a special status in the original film. He and the philosopher Francis Jeanson, an intellectual and former head of an Algerian FLN support network, play their own roles under their own names, unlike the other characters. But there where Jeanson is given all the latitude to develop his own line of argument in a very long sequence, Omar, while in a clear position of authority as he teaches the others, in reality amalgamates a string of quotations from Lenin and Mao. But Omar isn’t just the Black character. Of all the actors, he is also the only activist involved in the student movements of the time. Let’s not forget that he wasn’t even credited, but that Godard recognized ten years later that he was the only balanced character and the one who, ultimately, still mattered to him. A young, Black African philosopher and militant, then. This real-life character is subjugated and caught in a fiction. As the poet Paul Nougé once said, in the kingdom of the image, ghosts are king. It’s not a unique case in Godard, whose equivocal relationship to cultural alterity and specifically concerning the presence of small African roles in his filmography – those of Med Hondo or Alfred Panou, for example – is critically deconstructed in my film, then, using the master’s tools. Literally between Mao and Marx, Omar, in Godard’s film, becomes an academic Maomarx. I try to extricate him and to give him back a far more complex and turbulent life by giving voice to those who knew him.
OM: Khouma, your assistant on the shoot, plays his own role in the film, that of a this time Senegalese filmmaker. Can you say some more about this figure, who remains quite discreet but with whom you try to weave a dialogue in images?
Khouma is a history graduate who has chosen to make films and with whom I share an interest in this period. The images that I invited him to shoot while we were making the film respond to the Super 8 images of my family, who lived in Dakar from 1965 to 1968. I wanted there to be this coiling movement and that his character reference other films, like, for example, his film on Kédougou prison where Senghor’s opponents were imprisoned, or the one that is currently being made in Senegal about the circumstances of Omar’s death, or all those yet to be made and which will challenge the representations inherited from Senghorian discourse, as history can only be critiqued from the outside, by observing how it is constructed. This gesture concerning Omar, in the sense of a storyline narrating his feats, is thus counterbalanced by a gesture that engages the film itself as a narrative construction at a confluence of spaces, times and cultures.