Sunday, June 25, 2017

Soleil Ô (2017 restoration, The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project) (in the presence of Med Hondo)

Soleil Ô. Robert Liensol stars as the Mauritanian in France.

Oh, Sun. Director: Med Hondo. Year: 1970. Country: Mauritania. French and Arabic version with English subtitles. The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project.
    Sog., Scgf.: Med Hondo. F.: François Catonné, Jean-Claude Rahaga. M.: Michèle Masnier, Clément Menuet. Mus.: Georges Anderson. Int.: Robert Liensol, Théo Légitimus, Gabriel Glissand, Mabousso Lô, Alfred Anou, Les Black Echos, Ambroise M’Bia, Akonio Dolo. Prod.: Grey Films, Shango Films. DCP. D.: 98’. Bn.
    From: The Film Foundation: World Cinema Project.
    Restored by Cineteca di Bologna in collaboration with Med Hondo at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory. Restoration funded by the George Lucas Family Foundation and The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project
    The restoration of Soleil Ô was made possible through the use of a 16mm reversal print, and 16mm and 35mm dupe negatives deposited by Med Hondo at Ciné-Archives, the audiovisual archive of the French Communist Party, in Paris. A vintage 35mm print preserved at the Harvard Film Archive was used as a reference. Colour grading was supervised by cinematographer François Catonné.
    Introducono il regista Med Hondo, Margaret Bodde (The Film Foundation) e Cecilia Cenciarelli
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    DCP with English subtitles plus e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti viewed at Sala Scorsese, 25 June 2017.

Med Hondo, “Jeune Cinéma”, June-July 1970 (quoted at Il Cinema Ritrovato): "It was purely by chance that we ended up being artists ‘of colour’, as is the term usually used. In Paris together for basically the same reasons, Bachir, Touré, Robert and I found ourselves right in the middle of a country, a city, where we had to get by, for a lack of better words, where we had to work: being an actor, a musician, a singer. And where we realized immediately the doors were closed […].

As a solution we thought of creating a theater group and, in the meantime, we all made Soleil Ô. In order to make the film we had to overcome every bureaucratic and material obstacles, in other words, find a producer and tell him: “It’s the best story around, because we believe in it”. Like they say: “If you’re good at talking, you’re good at making film”. And so, we made Soleil Ô without money […].

All the scenes were based on reality. Because racism isn’t invented, especially in film. It’s like a kind of cloak put on you, that you’re forced to live with. Even the confession scene, at the beginning: in fact, in the Antilles, where I was born, they taught children that knowing how to speak Creole was a sin to confess.

I know that the cinema you called cinéma-vérité has always avoid saying things of the kind. The only thing it has done in this sense is take black faces and mix them in the crowds. To demonstrate that as the West continues to expand itself economically, the more it will need black labor. And so Africa will always be an underdeveloped continent: saying the contrary is a lie […].

The original idea was to show tourist spots packed with blacks only. All of a sudden you would see Sacré-Cœur, and you would see only blacks. It would have had a powerful cinematographic impact. But the idea remained on paper and wasn’t translated into images."
Med Hondo, “Jeune Cinéma”, June-July 1970 (quoted at Il Cinema Ritrovato)

AA: I saw for the first time Med Hondo's debut film Soleil Ô which I was very much looking forward to. Sarraounia I have considered a masterpiece since I saw it on its festival circuit in the 1980s. I included it into my film guide of the best films of all times (MMM Elokuvaopas).

Soleil Ô is completely different from the magnificent epic Sarraounia. It is a stark poetic masterpiece, an intelligent film essay on a Mauritanian (Robert Liensol) coming to France as an immigrant.

The film has been produced on a low budget and a high level of wit and invention. There are documentary sections, realistic sequences, limited animation passages, and ritual performances. The disparate elements are bound together by Med Hondo's powerful poetic sense of the connections.

The intelligent immigrant protagonist is received as a second-class citizen. France is nominally tolerant but the undercurrent of discrimination is ubiquitous just beyond the diplomatic surface. There are intelligent conversations that lead nowhere. Frenchwomen are intrigued: "Ever slept with a black man?" There are long looks when a white woman walks with a black man. The verdict after the test: "I heard that Africans in bed were... mais... ".

The finale takes place in the forest where the Mauritanian is invited to lunch with a French family living in the countryside. They are friendly, generous and hospitable, but his sense of being a stranger is heightened, and he walks alone back to the forest. He cries, he shouts, he yells while we hear the sound of the drums of Africa and a cuckoo in the forest.

There is no "The End" caption, instead a "A suivre" caption.

The music score of the film is stark and impressive, with drum beats, singers with guitars, jazz inserts, and eloquent songs. The title of the film itself is taken from the ancient song "Soleil Ô".

I missed Med Hondo's introduction due to an overlap with the previous screening but I could sense his powerful and dignified presence after the show.

The visual quality of the DCP presentation of the restored copy was good. The blow-up from the 16 mm original has been conducted with good taste.



Un immigré africain en quête de travail, découvre les aspérités de la "Douce France", le racisme de ses collègues, le désintérêt des syndicats et l'indifférence des dignitaires africains qui vivent à Paris, au pays de "nos ancêtres les Gaulois". Un cri de révolte contre toutes les formes d'oppression, la colonisation et toutes ses séquelles politiques, économiques et sociales ainsi qu'une violente dénonciation des fantoches installés au pouvoir dans beaucoup de pays d'Afrique par la bourgeoisie française.

Soleil O est le titre d'un chant antillais qui conte la douleur des Noirs amenés du Dahomey aux Caraïbes.

    Titre : Soleil O
    Réalisation : Med Hondo
    Musique : George Anderson
    Photographie : François Catonné
    Format : Noir et blanc - Mono
    Genre : Documentaire
    Durée : 98 minutes
    Date de sortie : 4 janvier 1973 en France


    Armand Abplanalp
    Yane Barry
    Bernard Bresson
    Greg Germain
    Théo Légitimus
    Robert Liensol


Soleil O (Oh, Sun) is a 1967 French-Mauritanian drama film directed by Med Hondo.

The film Soleil Ô, shot over four years with a very low budget, tells the story of a black immigrant who makes his way to Paris in search of “his Gaul ancestors”. This filmic manifesto denounces a new form of slavery: The immigrants desperately seek work and a place to live, but find themselves face to face with indifference, rejection, and humiliation, before heeding the final call for uprising. “Soleil Ô” is the title of a West Indian song that tells of the pain of the black people from Dahomey (now Benin) who were taken to the Caribbean as slaves.

Directed by     Med Hondo
Written by     Med Hondo
Music by     George Anderson
Cinematography     François Catonné
Distributed by     USA: New Yorker Films
Release date     France: January 4, 1973
    USA: March 14, 1973
    Belgium: December 18, 1975
    UK: December 3, 2003
Running time     98 minutes
Country     France, Mauritania
Language     French, Arabic

    Yane Barry as White Girl
    Bernard Fresson as Friend
    Greg Germain
    Théo Légitimus as Afro Girl
    Robert Liensol as Visitor
    Armand Meffre


A native of Mauritania is delighted when he is chosen to work in Paris. Hoping to parlay the experience into a better life for himself, he eagerly prepares for his departure from his native land. Although an educated man, he has extreme difficulty finding work and an apartment. He sees racial inequity as blacks are relegated to manual labor while less skilled whites are given preferential treatment. A dinner with a liberal white friend even reveals a continuing attitude of colonization towards third world countries. The disappointed man runs off to the woods where he hears the far off cry of the jungle drums calling him home from a cold and indifferent land.

- Written by Dan Pavlides, Rovi


France     4 May 1970     (Cannes Film Festival)
Switzerland     25 September 1970     (Locarno Film Festival)
France     4 January 1973    
USA     14 March 1973     (New York City, New York)
Belgium     18 December 1975    
UK     3 December 2007     (Africa at the Pictures)
France     22 May 2017     (digitally restored version) (Cannes Film Festival)

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