Voyage au Congo [Journey to the Congo] (1927) – dir. André Gide and Marc Allégret *

‘Voyage au Congo’ (1927) – André Gide and Marc Allégret

113 mins., b&w, silent – French intertitles

Source :  This film has been difficult to see, though a digital copy is viewable in the UK in the BFI Reuben Library while in France, the CNC, in collaboration with the rights holders, Les Films du Jeudi, plan to release a restored version in the near future. For further details see here.

Background   –  This film follows the journey, between September 1925 and May 1926, of the distinguished literary figure, André Gide, then in his mid-fifties, and his lover, thirty years his junior, Marc Allégret, who was later to become an equally distinguished film director.

Arriving by sea on the Atlantic coast, they travel up the Congo river, through Oubangui-Chari to Lake Chad, before turning west and returning to the coast through Cameroon. Although Gide’s name comes first on the credits of the film, it was Allégret who was the actual film-maker, though he had had very little experience prior to the trip.

The contexts in which Voyage au Congo was made are discussed at length in the diaristic accounts later published by Gide and, posthumously, by Allégret. Both offer a highly negative account of the colonial presence in the region, raising important questions about the status of the film that they made. But despite its many merits and the fame of its makers, Voyage au Congo has been curiously neglected in the literatures of both cinema studies and visual anthropology, though this may be related to how difficult it has been to see.

Film content – Even though the journeys took place relatively close in time, covered some of the same ground and even visited some of the same communities, the film that arose from this journey could hardly be more different to La Croisière noire. Although it is structured by the journey itself, as is La Croisière noire , there are very few references to the travellers in Voyage au Congo, or to the colonial presence.

Instead, apart from framing sequences at the beginning and end of the film, referring to the film-makers’ arrival and departure by boat, what Voyage au Congo mostly offers is a series of vignettes of the communities visited, including a particularly charming ethnofictional account midway through the film about the courtship and marriage of a young Sara couple.

Although technically less accomplished than La Croisière noire, the ethnographicness of Voyage au Congo is considerably greater in that it follows social and technical processes through from beginning to end. The intimacy with the African subjects achieved in the ethnofictional passage was not only unprecedented but would not be matched until Jean Rouch’s work in the 1950s.

Texts : Gide 1927, Gide 1928, Allégret 1993,  Ravet 2007

© 2018 Paul Henley