History isn’t fastened. It has a rhythm and a move that shifts in response to who’s telling the story, who’s listening, and the medium through which that story is being advised. True consensus is ever elusive, but documentary filmmaker Johan Grimonprez has constructed a profession on interrogating historical past in a bid to search out fact amidst the chaos wrought by time and bias. And for his newest effort, the Belgian director makes use of that rhythm to dizzying impact.
Following his Hitchcockian “Double Take” (2009) and “Shadow World” (2017), an investigation into the multi-billion greenback worldwide arms commerce, Grimonprez has returned to Sundance with “Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat,” a vibrant film essay that marries jazz and politics to unravel colonial machinations of energy within the Congo circa 1960.
There’s loads of floor to cowl, however in 150 minutes, Grimonprez forges by big swathes of time and area to chart how the Belgian monarchy, the U.S. authorities, and numerous firms colluded to assassinate Congo’s premiere prime minister, Patrice Lumumba. As it seems, they largely did it with jazz.
Legendary African-American musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Nina Simone had been despatched as decoys to deflect consideration from America’s first African post-colonial coup, unbeknownst to the precise artists in fact. As the movie notes, “America’s secret weapon is a blue note in a minor key,” and in the identical New York Times article, Louis Armstrong was quoted as “its most effective ambassador.” Yet music isn’t only a device for subterfuge. Drummer Max Roach and singer Abbey Lincoln immediately drew inspiration from the independence motion in Africa to later crash the Security Council in protest, and “Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat” successfully does the identical factor through the use of jazz to reframe the historical past books that Grimonprez and different Belgians grew up studying.
Cutting between residence motion pictures, official texts, historic footage, and Lumumba’s speeches (which had been as soon as thought misplaced without end previous to the making of this movie), “Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat” makes use of an infinite rhythm of rumba and jazz to weave this all collectively. Without any omniscient narration to talk of, the music turns into a personality in of itself, connecting all the varied media and many alternative views into one cohesive entire. Editor Rik Chaubet and sound designer Ranko Pauković seamlessly evoke pleasure and pressure (and every part in between) by their mixture of visuals and sound, which helps make the virtually overwhelming quantity of knowledge that a lot simpler to digest.
It’s essential to notice right here that “Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat” isn’t a historical past lesson within the conventional sense. Grimonprez’s doc has an impressionistic aptitude that asks audiences to actively take part in piecing every part collectively. If that appears like onerous work, it may be at factors, particularly given how the movie doesn’t journey alongside a simple, linear path. But once more, it’s the music that binds this all along with vibrant pacing that flows between totally different instances and places just like the freewheeling jazz on the coronary heart of those historic occasions.
Much of what’s coated is grim and even disheartening at factors, but there’s hope nonetheless, even within the wake of Lumumba’s homicide. Post-colonialism, key African and African-American voices had been emboldened to withstand and combat for what ought to have all the time been rightfully theirs. After loads of buildup, this all led to a rousing protest in 1961 the place Maya Angelou and different figureheads joined Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln to stage a protest in opposition to the United Nations. Quotes like “Bigoted sons of bitches” and “You Ku Klux Klan motherfuckers” come out of the archive footage with daring lettering as Roach’s drums and Lincoln’s voice attain a crescendo of defiance. It’s a stirring rally that’s uniquely cinematic in the way in which so many components come collectively so exactly and but nonetheless feels so natural as effectively.
This isn’t to say that Grimonprez is naive in his reevaluation of historical past. After this inspiring sequence guarantees change, the movie then cuts to modern-day footage shot within the Eastern Congo, 60 years later, the place issues stay a lot the identical. Although comparatively little time is spent within the current, the picture of a father hurrying to protect his kids from missiles blasting off close by is an important one which reminds us colonialism by no means actually vanished fully. It merely modified its look over time as worldwide mining conglomerates and numerous superpowers proceed to work even now to take care of this horrendous established order.
The movie doesn’t finish there although, surprisingly sufficient, and that’s as a result of historical past doesn’t take a linear path. Just just like the jazz rhythms that course by this “Soundtrack,” the reality of previous occasions and their influence on the right here and now haven’t any actual finish in a standard sense. There’s all the time one thing new to uncover, a brand new perspective that modifications every part, and whereas true objectivity will without end be unattainable, it’s fascinating to see Grimonprez seek for this regardless, particularly when it brings to gentle key voices of protest like Miriam Makeba, Madame Andree Blouin, and naturally Lumumba, whose message is simply as well timed now because it was six a long time prior.
“Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat” premiered on the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. It is at the moment looking for distribution.