Ulrich Köhler's fascinating third film is set in Africa, where his parents worked as doctors and where the director spent his childhood. Though it may represent a foreign place that can be exploited for personal and financial benefits, for a European, Africa isn't home, and this characteristic has the ability to both attract while being repellent, in the case of the German missionary doctor Ebbo Veltin (Pierre Bokma), and repel while being attractive, for the French-born doctor of Congolese origin, Alex Ndzila (Jean-Christophe Folly). Preparing to return to small-town German life, Ebbo feels trapped in Cameroon, but also by the structure of the family itself. He's uneasy at having to leave his clinic, where the cases of sleeping sickness seem to have been eradicated (or exaggerated).
This anxiety is inculcated on a narrative level by Köhler dividing the film in two, with the arrival of the immediately appealing Alex to investigate Ebbo for the WHO: but Ebbo, who has gone Kurtz, is nowhere to be found. It might seem that Köhler may be operating in the territory of Joseph Conrad or Graham Greene, but his ineluctable cinema of opacity--one that refuses to allow for easy identification--can be compared to Antonioni or Apichatpong (jungle lovers take note). For a work with no less than 15 instances of people asleep or in bed, Sleeping Sickness is startlingly awake, and serves to provide a jolt to the doldrums of contemporary cinema: this is a great film.
- Posted: November 19, 2011
- Director: Ulrich Köhler
- Writer: Ulrich Köhler
- Studio: Independent
- Release: February 12, 2011
- Cast: Pierre Bokma, Jean-Christophe Folly, Jenny Schily
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