×

Locarno Film Review: ‘Camille’

By weaving Camille Lepage’s photos into a fictional biopic structure, Boris Lojkine ensures a disturbing immediacy that transcends standardized narrative.

Director:
Boris Lojkine
With:
Nina Meurisse, Fiacre Bindala, Bruno Todeschini

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9678892/reference

Following his strong foray into fiction with “Hope,” director Boris Lojkine goes even further in weaving his documentary origins onto a fictional structure with “Camille,” a powerful biopic of French photojournalist Camille Lepage, who was killed in the Central African Republic in 2014 at the age of 26. While adopting a standard biopic structure that occasionally stumbles into the formulaic, Lojkine foregrounds his strengths by presenting a nuanced picture of the usual white European do-gooder in Africa, opening the film up to ambiguity and complexity. The use of Lepage’s own photographs ensures the audience sees what she saw, significantly deepening our feel for the woman while making sense of her shift from enthusiastic naïf to tough yet still empathetic professional. “Camille” won the public prize at Locarno, giving a good indication of its potential on the Euro art house circuit and beyond.

While functioning as an homage to Lepage, the film is also a critique of the white-savior-in-Africa cliché: Camille (Nina Meurisse) quickly learns that her photos won’t effect change, but they will humanize a conflict. Shooting in the Central African Republic with a mixed cast and crew that included many locals, Lojkine works hard at depicting Lepage as a woman interested in people more than issues, striving to overcome an “us versus them” mentality even while acknowledging that as a white woman in Africa, she will always be seen as the “other.” The director also doesn’t try to “whitesplain” the insurgency; while there’s a brief necessary history included at the start, the film makes clear there’s more to the killings than a clear-cut story of Muslim against Christian and vice versa. Refreshingly, “Camille” refuses to be an issue film, nor is it designed to milk Lepage’s death for tragedy. Instead, it’s a tribute to a woman who tried her best to honor the subjects of her lens.

Following a brief scene when her body is found, the film jumps back to 2013, when Camille, just back to France from South Sudan with a portfolio of images, corners a photo editor to get his opinion on her work. The verdict: She’s talented but doesn’t know what she wants to say. Determined to develop both her craft and her sense of purpose, she goes to Bangui, the CAR capital, without a commission or contacts, just sensing that this is where she should be, given reports of violence between the Séléka, largely formed of Muslim rebels, and the mostly Christian counterforce, the anti-Balaka. Camille starts befriending students at the university, specifically Cyril (Fiacre Bindala), Leïla (Ousnabee Zounoua) and Abdou (Abdouraouf Diallo), who give her insight into the conflict.

At this stage Camille is still idealistic, believing she can make a difference, which is why she’s almost offended when she’s told by a group of seasoned male photojournalists that she needs to erect a psychological barrier between herself and her subjects, since she can’t really imagine what they’re going through. While this isn’t a message she’s willing to hear, she pushes herself into their midst, which includes François (Grégoire Colin) and Michaël Zumstein (playing himself), hoping to learn the ropes and get an assignment. That comes once France sends in troop support and “Libération” gives her a commission.

By then, Camille has already seen morgues overflowing with bodies, but that’s just the start. She’s witness to a lynching, a castration, a man having his head crushed by a rock, all of which she photographs, knowing that she mustn’t flinch while recording the truth. Scenes like the jaded photojournalists debating ethics, or the editor critiquing her work, have the over-familiarity of a well-worn script, but the images of Camille as active observer, intercut with Lepage’s photographs as well as videos (of unknown origin), have a disturbing immediacy that transcends standardized narrative. Towards the end, as she heads into ever more dangerous territory with a newfound tough exterior, she’s clearly shed her ingenuousness while holding firm to an abiding principle, to humanize those she photographs.

In what must have been a punishing shoot, Meurisse embodies Lepage exactly as we imagine her: Friendly, naïve, committed and certain of the fundamental value of her outlook even as she strives to realize it in her work. Her vulnerability dovetails with the energy she imbibes from being in Africa, and the actress works easily with the mix of professionals and nonprofessionals. Lojkine again pairs with cinematographer Elin Kirschfink but this time uses a 1.5 aspect ratio to create a more seamless montage between Lepage’s photos and their fictionalization; the gambit pays off handsomely, also thanks to Xavier Sirven’s superb edit that maintains a rhythm and flow.

Popular on Variety

Locarno Film Review: 'Camille'

Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (Piazza Grande), August 12, 2019. Running time: 92 MIN.

Production: (France) A Pyramide Distribution release (in France) of a Unité de Production presentation of a Unité de Production prod, with the participation of the Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée, Canal plus, Ciné plus, in association with Indéfilms 7, Pyramide Distribution. (International sales: Pyramide International, Paris.) Producer: Bruno Nahon.

Crew: Director: Boris Lojkine. Screenplay: Lojkine, Bojina Panayotova. Camera (color): Elin Kirschfink. Editor: Xavier Sirven. Music: Eric Bentz.

With: Nina Meurisse, Fiacre Bindala, Bruno TodeschiniGrégoire Colin, Augustin Legrand, Michaël Zumstein, Ousnabee Zounoua, Abdouraouf Diallo, Rafiki Fariala, Mireille Perrier, Antoine Gouy, Aurélie Mazzeo, Sammy Bangafaye, Kevin Pascal Mette, Antonin Schopfer, Geoffrey Bateman, Roch Leibovici. (French, Sango, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Rita And Tom Hanks Coronavirus

    Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson Return to U.S. After Coronavirus Diagnosis in Australia

    Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson are back home in the U.S. after they revealed they had contracted coronavirus and were quarantined in Australia. Hanks gave an update on Twitter Saturday morning, thanking everyone who had helped them in Australia and assuring people that they are still isolating themselves in the U.S. “Hey, folks…We’re home now [...]

  • Film Comment Magazine Goes on Hiatus

    Film Comment Magazine to Go on Hiatus as Film at Lincoln Center Lays Off Half of Staff

    Many companies are being financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and the Film at Lincoln Center is the latest organization to have to lay off employees and pause some of their operations. On Friday, executive director Lesli Klainberg released a memo announcing that the center had to furlough or lay off about half of its [...]

  • "Birds of Prey" egg sandwich

    'Birds of Prey' Actor Bruno Oliver Recreates Harley Quinn's Famous Sandwich

    When actor Bruno Oliver booked the role of short order cook Sal in “Birds of Prey: (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” he had no idea how significant Sal and his breakfast sandwich were to the story. “You couldn’t tell from the audition necessarily and as actors, we always worry about our scenes [...]

  • Minyan

    'Minyan': Film Review

    Best known for the unexpectedly soul-shattering San Francisco suicide doc “The Bridge,” indie filmmaker Eric Steel came out and came of age in 1980s New York at a moment just before AIDS devastated the city’s gay community. Such timing must have been surreal, to assume something so liberating about one’s own identity, only to watch [...]

  • Animated Movie 'The Queen's Corgi' Fetches

    Film New Roundup: Animated Movie 'The Queen's Corgi' Fetches North American Distribution

    In today’s film news roundup, “The Queen’s Corgi” finds a home, the Overlook Film Festival is postponed and the California Film Commission adjusts its tax credit rules due to the coronavirus. ACQUISITION Freestyle Digital Media has acquired North American rights to the animated family comedy feature “The Queen’s Corgi,” and plans to make it available on DVD and to [...]

  • APA Logo

    APA Sets Salary Cuts and Furloughs in Wake of Covid-19 Pandemic

    Following in the steps of several agencies dealing with the coronavirus, APA has informed all offices of upcoming salary cuts along with possible suspensions and furloughs for employees due to the pandemic’s economic effect on the industry. APA board of directors will make the largest financial sacrifice. The move has been made to avoid layoffs [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content