ARLIT, THE SECOND PARIS (Idrissou Mora-Kpaï, 2005)

One of the most trenchant films I’ve seen, Arlit, deuxième Paris shows an immigrant community whose members, financially stuck in the rubble of their economic dreams, wait and wait upon their own deaths, the result of their decades-earlier experience as uranium miners when Arlit, Niger, was a glittering boom town where multinational corporations such as SOMAIR, a subsidiary of AREVA, could get rich off the labor of black Africans so that Europe could have its prized nuclear power and nuclear capabilies. In time, this corporate colonialism, sated with profits none of which went back to Arlit and its inhabitants, and jangled by regional revolutionary activity, abandoned Arlit, leaving behind a degraded environment and the radiation-poisoned former laborers now lethally compromised by liver and lung cancers, none of which, the corporations still insist, have any connection whatsoever to their operations. (Heartrending: A black medical spokesman declares with a straight face this utter lack of causality.) Here again is the exalted “global village.”

Arlit doesn’t look like “another Paris” anymore. It resembles, instead, a ghost town lost in the monotonous sands of the Sahara Desert, punctuated by the hulks of machinery also left behind from the European pull-out.

Benin filmmaker Idrissou Mora-Kpaï’s brilliant, quiet though enraging documentary is pure cinema, absent all narration, and full of conversation, its men those who are dying, and its women those who have also been lured to this place in the middle of nowhere by legends of economic hopefulness and success. Bravura slow pans, including 360º ones, survey depressing landscapes attuned to the crushed, resigned spirits of ruined human lives.

The course of our souls, we come to feel, depends on how much the strangers here whom we watch and listen to matter.

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