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The film turns all of this into a joyride of “Hollywood” emotions – a full-on, star-studded, big-league action romance. Gondry’s special effects don’t leave your imagination room (or air) to breathe. Everything is loud, unsubtle and, up to the very end, non-stop.
However I went to it right after seeing the Musée du quai branly’s Laughter, Horror and Death (Le Rire, L’Horreur et La Mort).** This is a tiny and lurid exhibit about a handful of African “Z films”. Those were the staples of Ghanian video clubs in the Eighties – and they feature demon cats, businessmen who become serpents, bossy sacred trees and breasts that grow in the dark. The heart of the show is a handful of posters created in cheap paints on old flour sacks.
Of course, these video clubs also imported Hollywood horror, which is what most of the posters depict. But the real – and most popular – Z movies were African. First they came from Nollywood, i.e. they were made in Nigeria. Later, Ghana also briefly had her own Ghollywood. Z films were the work of would-be auteurs or film collectives. Besides imagination, none of the makers had any resources.
As displayed in a very short montage, the result is a Africanised boulevard theatre. Its horrors may be simple. But they’re mostly so surreal they manage to have you gasping AND laughing at once. On the tiny screen, basic things hold hidden terrors – protagonists are menaced while they sleep, walk, eat or pray. People are vaporised, altars pop up out of nowhere and a loquacious talking devil kills with words alone.
It’s all just a few pieces stuck away in mezzanine and their presentation in the museum seems like an afterthought. The local films and their world only appear in the clips, in a few documentary photos and one audio track you enter a booth to hear. It’s like seeing something out of the corner of your eye.
Yet it has a crazily touching poetry all its own – one that would certainly appeal to Boris Vian.
* Even the title is difficult to translate. The word écume means ”foam”, sometimes implying “dirty foam” since, as a verb, écumer means “to skim”. It seems the most respected translation settled for Froth on the Daydream.
** A title which would also work for L’écume des jours