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IFFR 2023 Tiger Competition

Review: Le spectre de Boko Haram


- As its title suggests, Cyrielle Raingou’s debut feature takes stock of the wounds left by the notorious terrorist organisation in a Cameroonian village on the border with Nigeria

Review: Le spectre de Boko Haram

The decision to call Cyrielle Raingou’s film Le spectre de Boko Haram [+see also:
film profile
is certainly spot on. In her debut feature, showcased in the Tiger Competition of this year’s IFFR, where it won the top prize (see the news), the director takes stock of the aftermath of the brutalities and the killing spree perpetrated by the notorious terrorist organisation in Kolofata, a small North Cameroonian village on the border with Nigeria.

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The film begins with a night shot depicting a fireplace. Behind it, a child is sitting down. She tells us how the gruesome killing of her father took place. While cleaning a gutter, the man was approached by two strangers holding a chicken. The father asked whether they were selling it and for how much. All of a sudden, one of the two men pressed a button under his clothes and blew himself up. This scene is then followed by some brief shots depicting the apparently quiet settlement of Kolofata, which is later interrupted by some gun shots being fired not too far away from the village.

The child’s testimony and the subsequent scenes constitute a simple but effective opening that manages to tell viewers how the titular spectre is still very much alive in the memories and the everyday life of the community, despite their brave attempts to move forward.

Here, Raingou decides to zoom in on a group of children. After meeting Falta Souleymane (the girl appearing in the film’s first scene), who proves to be quite mature for her age and eager to process her father’s demise, we get to know Ibrahim Alilou and his older brother Mohamed, who both struggle to cope with their past traumas and to strike a balance between their liveliness and their more mundane school duties.

The documentarian’s approach is unobtrusive and predominantly observational. Her knowledge of the villagers – including the teacher at the local primary school, who seems to be a point of reference in Kolofata – and the troubled reality she is dealing with comes across crystal clear, and allows her to be delicate and sensitive with the young subjects she is working with.

Besides, what creates a stark contrast within this film is the surreal tranquillity and ease with which the children reveal to us the horrific acts they have witnessed while every corner of their village is heavily guarded by the army. Meanwhile, at least on the surface, the adults appear weaker. But it’s all about how pain is being processed and the different levels of awareness people have at different stages of their lives.

All in all, this is a moving documentary where one can find many moments of great sincerity. It is striking to see, for example, how a 35-year-old woman who has tragically lost her husband explains to her young daughter how, in spite of everything, she is grateful to have spent the best years of her life with a man she loved and with whom she never argued. Even the simple thought of this helps her to carry on and take care of her child.

Le spectre de Boko Haram was produced by Cameroon’s Tara Group and France’s Label Vidéo, in co-production with French broadcasters Canal+ International and Télé Bocal.

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