Dutch helmer Renzo Martens may be a prankster, a genius or a fool when he tries to persuade Congolese locals they should turn their poverty into a commodity. But that's the gist of his provocative project in docu "Episode 3: 'Enjoy Poverty.' "

Dutch helmer Renzo Martens may be a prankster, a genius or a fool when he tries to persuade Congolese locals they should turn their poverty into a commodity. But that’s the gist of his provocative project in docu “Episode 3: ‘Enjoy Poverty.’ ” Irritating and fascinating by turns, pic makes for weirdly compelling viewing, although Martens’ lack of lensing skill will impoverish its chances of airing anywhere outside fests and galleries.

Pic is the strange fruit of three years spent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Martens, who comes from the art world, talked to poor workers, wealthy plantation owners, aid workers and foreign journalists. Out to illustrate his not-entirely-daft thesis that poverty is one of the country’s biggest assets (because it attracts foreign aid), Martens tries to get the locals to exploit their tragic circumstances through photography and erecting a neon sign in one village that reads “Enjoy Poverty.” It’s never quite clear how sincerely Martens — who increasingly comes to resemble Klaus Kinski in “Fitzcarraldo” — believes he’s actually helping these people. And they look like they’re wondering, too.

– Leslie Felperin

Episode 3: 'Enjoy Poverty'

Documentary - Netherlands

Production

A Martens Menselijke Activiteiten, Inti Films production, with participation of Dutch Film Fund, Flanders Audiovisual Fund, NCDO, Prins, VPRO, Lichtpunt, Fonds Beeldende Kunsten, Prins Bernard Cultuur Fonds. (International sales: Autlook Filmsales, Vienna.) Produced by Renzo Martens. Co-producer, Peter Kruger. Directed, written by Renzo Martens.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Martens; editor, Jan De Coster. Reviewed on DVD, Hoveton, U.K., Dec. 9, 2008. (In International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.) French, English, Lingala dialogue. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Renzo Martens.

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