sat 20/04/2024

Red Island review - Madagascar miniatures | reviews, news & interviews

Red Island review - Madagascar miniatures

Red Island review - Madagascar miniatures

An undemanding study of the post-colonial French

Easy rider: Charlie Vauselle as the young expatriate Thomas in Robin Campillo’s ‘Red Island’

The French military outpost on Madagascar is a “family cocoon, full of love and benevolence”, according to a character in this fictional portrait of the country in the early 1970s. Of course, as soon as we hear this claim near the start of Red Island, we assume we’re about to witness anything but.

What follows, however, is less a broadside against French colonialism, or even against the nuclear family, than a largely personal exercise in nostalgia. Sixty years on from The Battle of Algiers, a film that exposed the horrors of France’s imperial adventures to the world, Robin Campillo’s new movie is more of a snuggle than a battle.

This well-acted film is a modestly budgeted France-Belgium-Madagascar co-production. Inspired by the director’s childhood, it shows life on the airbase 10 years after the Malagasy people won independence from France, and parades a series of small moments experienced by eight-year-old Thomas (Charlie Vauselle) plus his folks and friends.

His parents (Quim Gutiérrez and Nadia Tereszkiewicz) have a typical 1970s marriage – fragile, but what can you do? – and Thomas spends some of the movie fantasising about a girl superhero called Fantômette, whose antics we see re-created. He seems to want to be her, too, though gender politics are beyond the reach of Campillo’s tale, along with a deep dive into any other kind of politics.

In the life of the subdued Thomas, alienation co-exists with contentment, which is perhaps the chord of a regular childhood, and the filmmaker has suggested he was more interested in exploring a “sensory journey” than full-bore storytelling. But the children and adults are trapped on the military base, so we experience little of the phantasmagorical flora and fauna that Madagascar is famous for. Instead, there is Thomas’s interest in rocks and stones that Campillo matches to views of the landscape and the eyes of pet baby crocodiles, though the cinematography is a long way from the hypnotic textures deployed by an Andrea Arnold or a Terrence Malick.

A raft of recent movies have tried to capture the angst and awe of kids (most exquisitely, Mexico’s Tótem), but here we jump in and out of the lives of too many others for the spell of the wonder years to be woven. They’re mostly dull French people, an exception being a young Malagasy woman named Miangaly (Amely Rakotoarimalala), fed up with folding parachutes for the foreign airmen and idly in love with a dopey French mess-servant.

Through her, at the end, we see an impromptu rally in which released Malagasy prisoners read out texts about colonial suffering. Yet this political box-ticking barely upends the warm bath of the rather meandering, hoppity movie we’ve witnessed up until then.

Political box-ticking barely upends a warm bath of a movie


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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