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Pieces d'Identites

Distributed by California Newsreel, Order Dept., PO Box 2284, South Burlington, VT 05407; 877-811-7495 (toll free)
Produced by Mweze Ngangura
Directed by Mweze Ngangura
VHS, color, 94 min.
African Studies

Reviewed by Ramona Islam, DiMenna-Nyselius Library, Fairfield University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   

Congolese filmmaker Mweze Ngangura's latest effort, which won the prestigious Etalon de Yennega award at FESPACO in 1999, is a cinematic production worthy of the term edutainment. It is at once a charming fairy tale and a voice for people of African descent who face denigrating racism and poverty in the western world. Viewers will be challenged to confront serious issues with nary a twinge of boredom. The French title, "Pieces d'Identites," translates as "I.D." in English. Indeed, identity is the central theme of this film as its characters, members of the African diaspora, struggle to find themselves and their place in the world.

The movie opens as Mani Kongo, King of the Bakongo, embarks on a trip to Belgium to find his beloved daughter, Mwana. The king had intended for Mwana to study medicine abroad, but when the Congo economy collapsed, he could no longer fund his daughter's education and lost touch with her. Outfitted in full regalia and as much dignity, the African king walks into a society that neither respects his title nor values his humanity. On Belgian soil he finds his wallet stolen and his sacred crown in the hands of an unscrupulous antique dealer. The loss of his regalia- his "identity pieces," and the failure to locate his daughter begin to eat away at the king's self image. Meanwhile, Mwana who has just been released from prison, has begun dancing at a strip club in Brussels to appease the racist, misogynist police, who ask her to spy on customers in an effort to catch a masked thief. Through a series of delightful if implausible coincidences, Mani Kongo reunites with his daughter, and both regain their self-esteem and sense of purpose in life.

Pieces d'Identites will appeal to a wide variety of audiences who appreciate dramas, romances, comedies, or thrillers. Despite its high entertainment value, it should not be discounted for classroom use. The film is set against the historical backdrop of colonialism, and uses actual Belgian newsreels dating from the late 1950's, just before the Congo was granted its independence in 1960. While the script employs some fantastic plot devices, the depicted plight of Congolese immigrants to Belgium is not far from reality. Mweze Ngangura, himself a Congolese emigrant living in Belgium, hopes that his film speaks meaningfully about his own experiences and the universal problems of cultures and identity. Professors of history, social studies, or African studies may find this movie to be an engaging tool capable of drawing undergraduate students into serious study of modern cultural and political issues.

Pieces d'Identities, a rare combination of fun and fortification, is available in French with English subtitles for $195.00. Highly recommended.