Mourning, Community

Vincent Meessen and Olivier Marboeuf in Conversation (part II)

Trailer : Juste un Mouvement (Just a Movement)


Olivier Marboeuf: The question of mourning rituals is perhaps less present in Just a Movement than in the earlier version of your film, Quelle que soit la longueur de la nuit (However Long the Night) yet traces of this state of mourning remain – that which the African-American scholar Christina Sharpe refers in her book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being as a black way of surviving in the contemporary moment, with an attentiveness to and an acute awareness of the violence of history. 


Vincent Meessen: Omar belongs to a very long line of militants, some famous, others anonymous, who lost their lives defending a whole host of values against all odds, defending equality – the common value par excellence – and the perhaps antagonistic value of autonomy. The film invites the spectator to consider the validity of a demand for justice: that of the family and friends, who demand accountability from an official history fabricated out of a quashed legal investigation. Testifying is undoubtedly a necessary step in accepting loss, and thus inscribing it in one’s own history. The psychoanalyst Laurie Laufer speaks about survivance as a “psychic experience of the life of an image that has never stopped moving.” Laufer proposes resolving the enigma of mourning through the burial process. For her, this process –through which the deceased live on – is a creative process needed to build a future on the shared memory of “our” disasters. We can perhaps connect both Sharpe and Laufer’s words to those of Walter Benjamin and his sixth theses on history, in which he distinguished history from memory: “To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it ‘the way it really was’ . . . It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger . . . Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.” In other words, this enemy is ever present, and to contest it is to understand that if there is indeed a hope of democracy, it is first and foremost a question of justice that extends to the dead.

OM: I said earlier that Omar is a kind of multifaceted diffracting lens, but there is also the motif of the absentee, a space around which the film seeks to rebuild a community in the present, a community that surpasses just family ties and which is not without conflict, without divergence: a possible society.

VM: Rather than turning him into a hero or a martyr in spite of himself, cinema allows making him a man of futures, “an associate of a possible”, the member of an open community forever seeking its convergences and its allies beyond identity politics, and doctrinal, racial, or national criteria. The past and present contexts are entirely different, of course, and there is no doubt something incongruous in trying to connect them unless we consider that they allow us to see the curve of a political circle. China, today, is simultaneously the tangent of this circle, its point of friction, and its horizon. It concerns the entire world, not just a few small groups from May 68. It’s a fact whose risks and opportunities Malal the rapper and Felwine the academic perceive from their different observation posts – the outskirts, for one, and the university for the other.

OM: With this conversation in a train between two very different figures of contemporary Senegalese society – the activist rapper Fou Malade and the economist Felwine Sarr – I get the impression you are trying to intimate future lines, future perspectives that are both situated and global, at times divergent, but which converge at least in the desire to break the repetition of history.

VM: Yes, the scene in the train is set right at the start of the film. We return to it from time to time throughout the film through the point-of-view shots. It’s a parallel path that takes us from the centre to the periphery. In the final scene, the spectator can clearly perceive the entanglement of the different threads – those linking Senegal’s past and recent insurrections – and thereby question the counter-revolutionary threat, the meaning of the commons, the modalities of reinventing tradition, rampant neo-colonialism, the importance of cultural infrastructures in raising the awareness of generations robbed of their history, China as the projection of the past and present
 The issue shifts in each of the films, from the legitimacy – or not – of recourse to violence in politics in Godard’s very long sequence, to the impossibility of a political democracy without both distributive and restorative justice in my film. Which perhaps brings us to the society you mentioned, and that I also imagine as one that any film can dream: a society of spectators who have themselves become actors – or, in other words, mobile – a society of free electrons shaped by the traces and the differences that both separate them from and connect them to their history. A society in which inheriting becomes an active affirmation, a politics of memory that eventually takes precedence over history, a discipline that dissimilates its recourse to narrative procedures, and thus to fiction.

OM: Coming back to this idea of specific knowledge – and of memory, notably – which is based on an awareness of danger, I’d like to suggest a different point of departure to Benjamin. For the knowledge I was trying to suggest is, in my view, a specific “sensing” that relates to specific bodies and is connected to them. It’s the least shareable element of difference because it goes beyond the simple principle of knowing, in the sense of information; it is the knowing-body, an archive-body, in which a part of the history of violence is inscribed. Referring to the USA’s Black minorities, the African-American theorist Fred Moten describes this as something that triggers a permanent anticipation of the risk of death. This knowledge has an impact right down to one’s way of standing, of walking in the street, of talking or keeping quiet, of laughing. It’s not an immediately collective knowledge, a however heterogenous “we”; it is first and foremost something that produces a distance, in which to breathe, to simply live, and a defensive attentiveness – Elsa Dorlin talks about “negative care” from a feminist self-defence perspective. This risk creates a tension, a state of alertness that Sharpe rightly describes as an awakened state, playing on the consonance between in the wake/awake – at the same time in mourning and alert. It’s a relentless simultaneous feeling of life and of death, one that is literally breath-taking. I think that, here, the request for autonomy – what I called “distance” a minute ago – is not contrary to equality, then, but that it is in fact a strategic condition of it. Relationality, and perhaps alliance, have no chance of a satisfactory outcome if we don’t take the asymmetries we have inherited between the Global North and South into account, and thus if we don’t take into account a necessary space in which to breath, to retreat, and this way of reaching a commons via a path on which death is a risk overhanging life. 

This thus poses the question of forms of justice, and it seems to me that no form is complete or conclusive. No form – whether a trial or a film – brings complete reparation. There have to be other rituals too that play on other realms of representation, which need to initially break away from the confessional realm and go and speak elsewhere. These other realms are necessary, and I get the impression that it is on the basis of this cumulative and unexclusive perception that we literally manage to do justice, to compose a “we” who owns no specific law or player. So, there is perhaps something here that forges society if no operation dominates, but we still need to find a place for all these realms to come together. As I’ve said in other situations, these realms and this place cannot be in film, but film can allow us to perceive precisely what it cannot represent, to perceive that something exists “outside”, elsewhere.

VM: Justice appeases but it cannot entirely repair, as you say. Earlier, I mentioned justice in its distributive dimension too, which is its other pole or role – that of apportioning. As for force, for recourse to violence, although it might well be necessary to enforce the laws that humans create, it is also contrary to justice. Justice thus has the dual objective of repairing wrongs and redistributing goods. Historically, it’s the very foundation of the principle of equality and makes humans obey it, if needs be by force. That’s its intrinsic paradox. What is more, universal administrative justice – that of courts and tribunals – has perpetuated its denial of racial bias in many places around the world. Recent cases of police violence, which have sometimes ended in death in the USA, have in France, and here too in Belgium, brought to the fore the social injustice, pain, and profound anger of the families and loved ones of many cases filed with no further action, which are in fact highly comparable to that of Omar, who most probably died from blows inflicted by the police called in as back-up by the regular jailers. We can mention the case of Sanda Dia here too, a Belgian student of Senegalese descent who died during a student hazing. This affair is emblematic for us in Belgium in that a desire to integrate the elite was punished with deadly abuse. When you refer to forms of justice, I understand that you are drawing my attention to the truncated neutrality of the justice system: class justice, incarceration rates according to origin and skin colour, double penalties, etc. In our societies, the judicial depends on laws created by the executive and the legislative; it’s the tool of power. The justice system thus still needs to be decolonized to bring about what Denise Ferreira da Silva calls a global justice. Contexts can be very different from one country to another but, yes, beyond a judicial truth is a sentiment of justice or injustice, which makes it necessary to resort to other rituals, to gestures necessary to those victim to a “wrong”. In my film, the scene with Omar’s three brothers gathered together around a fire perhaps brings out this risk of injustice, which will descend on the family like a dark night when the judge removed from his functions at the time, the prison guard, and last witness alive pass away
 and yet, despite this inevitable ending, one of the brothers concludes that, “if it’s not us, it will be our children, or our grandchildren, but sooner or later light will be shed, with or without the help of the State authorities, for, however long the night, the sun always ends up rising.” Only the horizon of justice can break the tragic cycle, but it may be that reparation takes divers and multiple forms. There is perhaps a tragic Omar in the sense that Walter Benjamin meant it; that is, a hero committed to justice, aspiring to a sovereign life, freed from the yoke of the arbitrary. In inventing a character, the film condemns itself to betraying the person. But that is preferrable to a second death, that inflicted by the authorities and the official version of history.

One moment is still to come, that of the reception of the film in Senegal and in Africa. I am curious to see and hear what will be said behind the scenes, in other words, in the movie theatres or open-air cinemas of Dakar and elsewhere.


Omar blondin diop (1946–1973) was a Senegalese militant leftist intellectual born in Niamey (Niger) and who died in prison on GorĂ©e island (Senegal). As a student in philosophy in Paris during the 1960s, he graduated from the renowned university École Normale SupĂ©rieure de Saint-Cloud. Studying at the University of Nanterre, he met Jean-Luc Godard and “played himself” as a Maoist militant in La Chinoise (1967). A member of the FĂ©dĂ©ration des Ă©tudiants d’Afrique noire en France (FEANF), he also took part in the March 22 Movement. This French student movement occupied administration buildings at Nanterre University and was at the origin of the student uprising of May ’68. Diop was expelled from France to Senegal where he briefly was a researcher at the IFAN (Institut Fondamental d’Afrique noire), and founded the Mouvement des Jeunes Marxistes-LĂ©ninistes (MJML), a clandestine party. On presidential request, he was re-admitted to study in Paris on the condition that he would stop his political activities. Shortly after returning to Paris in 1970, two of his brothers were arrested and sentenced in Dakar. Omar left France to prepare his brothers’ escape, but was preventively arrested in Bamako.

Vincent Meessen was born in Baltimore, USA, in 1971, and lives and works in Brussels, Belgium. His artistic and filmic work are woven from a constellation of figures, gestures, and signs that maintain a polemical and sensible relation to the writing of history and the westernization of imaginaries. He decenters and multiplies gazes and perspectives to explore the variety of ways in which colonial modernity has impacted the fabric of contemporary subjectivities. Both in his work as an artist and filmmaker, he likes to use procedures of collaboration that undermine the authority of the author and emphasize the intelligence of collectives. His films have been screened at numerous museums and art centers including Centre Pompidou (Paris), HKW (Berlin), MUMOK (Vienna), Museo Reina Sofia (Madrid), in film festivals including IFFR (Rotterdam), IDFA (Amsterdam), Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Art of the Real (New York, Seoul), FID (Marseille) and FESPACO (Ouagadougou).
Main solo exhibitions have taken place in Montreal, Toronto, Paris, Basel, Brussels, Bordeaux, Mexico, Amsterdam.
Vincent Meessen has represented Belgium at the 56th Venice Biennale with Personne et les autres,  a group show with ten invited artists from four continents. Recent other biennale participations include  
 and other such stories, Chicago Architecture Biennial, (2019); GĂ©nĂ©alogies futures, rĂ©cits depuis l’Équateur,Biennale de Lubumbashi (2019); Proregress, 12th Shanghai Biennale (2018-2019); Printemps de septembre, Toulouse (2016, 2018) and Gestures and Archives of the Present, Genealogies of the Future, Taipei Biennale (2016).
Vincent Meessen is a member of Jubilee-platform for research and artistic production.


Juste un Mouvement (Just a Movement)
a film by Vincent Meessen (color, 108 min, 2021)
Coproduction BELGIQUE / FRANCE : JUBILEE / Vincent Meessen et Inneke Van Waeyenberghe, THANK YOU & GOOD NIGHT productions / Geneviùve De Bauw, SPECTRE productions / Olivier Marboeuf, CBA – Centre de l’Audiovisuel à Bruxelles / Javier Packer Comyn, MAGELLAN Films / Samuel Feller
With the support of: Centre du CinĂ©ma et de l’Audiovisuel de la FĂ©dĂ©ration Wallonie-Bruxelles , Service public francophone bruxellois, Vlaams audiovisueel fonds (VAF) et CNAP-Image/Mouvement, Centre Pompidou, Paris Mu.ZEE, Oostende, 34a Bienal de SĂŁo Paulo Art et Recherche, RĂ©gion Ile-de-France, RĂ©gion Bretagne, Argos Centre for audiovisual arts, Belgium Federal Government Tax shelter

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