The macabre pageantry and audacious provocation of Africa Addio, transmitted in every authentic portrait of murder and despair, masquerades as the unflinching journalistic eye, deceptively shrouding racist ideology beneath sophistry and subtle insinuation. Employing technical skill to divert from their odious methods, Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi create contrast through montage, juxtaposing snapshots of white stoicism with the frenzied streets of black Africa, attempting to vindicate Apartheid and validate European colonialism through staged footage and redubbed dialogue.
Keen to betray both of its subjects, this uncomfortable merger of travelogue and exposé uses violence as set dressing, repurposing riot scenes and armed conflict as the expense of progress and confirmation of black inferiority. Little context is given to elaborate on the visceral procession of images, permitting the narrator to act as omniscient voice and steer the discussion away from sociological study and into superficial comparison. Shown relishing in the grandeur of the fox hunt and cowering in fear of “Mau Mau” retaliation, the noble white African is hard to refute when held against unflattering portraits of native hygiene and an inferred propensity for brutality, legitimizing the ironic portrait of “justice” that acts as the film’s centerpiece.
Ostensibly filmed in Kenyan court rooms, trials of African mutineers held by their non-native sovereigns have an unintended effect, generating empathy instead of calculated demonization. As the filmmakers envision the defendants’ crimes in staged reenactments, wallowing in the details of their barbarous malefactions, the accused are paraded before the leering camera, made to widen their eyes and gawk like inhuman monsters.
The filmmakers are also complicit in the desecration of unwilling animal participants, treating mortality as fodder for their unethical geek show. Images of dead primates, rotting and hung from trees, are accompanied by grim synthesizer and shameless close-up, adorned with the same prurient fascination of a pornographic money shot. The inhumanity of sport hunting is also confused for artistic endeavor, as safari-goers are afforded the liberty of staging elephant executions and the crew posits their cruelty as harmless adventure.
Momentary bouts of conscience shift the focus to humanitarian efforts, though most lean heavily on sentimentality and prefer audience tears over actual insight. The crux of a sequence on anti-poaching efforts seems to be ignored entirely in favor of a grieving baby zebra, shown prodding the corpse of its dead mother before the lingering camera eye. A single, surreal image of the foal before the setting sun, carried on a harness from an ascending chopper, is exquisite and rousing enough to inspire a lapse of memory, but malice in the name of art overshadows fits of evocative photography and the closing din of the firing squad reaffirms Africa Addio’s vampiric motivations.
Africa Addio (Rizzoli Films, 1966)
Written and Directed by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi
Photographed by Antonio Climati