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Black and White in Color

Review: Black and White in Color

[Originally published in Movietone News 56, November 1977]

As the title suggests, Black and White in Color is a film that is deliberately conscious of its medium. In fact, the style of the film is an easy index of its approach to the problems it seeks to address: most of the shots use a long lens, with a narrow depth of field, creating virtually a whole film in portrait-style close, medium-close, and mid-shot compositions with a sharp focus on the central subject, but with hazy background or Limbo for a milieu. This is the stuff of bigger-than-life cinematic caricature; and despite the film’s bows to the complexity of issues involved here (military vs. civilian, officer vs. noncom, ruling class vs. bourgeoisie, civilization vs. savagery). it really does end up treating its characters and their ways of life as matters of black-and-white. Who would have thought, in 1977, that someone still thinks it is significant satire to show sanctimonious priests in the trenches assuring soldiers that “God is on our side”? Or to show a white man enjoying a quaint native song that, when translated, proves to be a litany of insults to the white man? How original an anti-war statement is it to have a group of civilians stage a Renoiresque picnic on the edge of the battlefield, cautioning one another not to “get too close”? The idea of the film is itself the stuff of which heavyhanded allegory is made: the staging of World War I in miniature between French colonists at Fort Coulais, Ivory Coast, and German colonists at a nearby outpost.

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