Pol Cruchten | Black Dju
Classic Film and Television Home Page
Black Dju (1996) is about an African man whose father is
an immigrant worker in Luxembourg. When his father mysteriously
stops writing home and disappears, he travels to Luxembourg to
look for him. The film is singularly gripping as a piece of storytelling.
It mingles the universal - a young man's desire to help his elderly
father - with the particular - a look at Luxembourg and its black
The hero Dju and his family come from the African island nation
of Cape Verde, which is also briefly seen at the film's opening.
A Semi-Documentary Film
Black Dju aims for realism. The film seems to be shot entirely
on location. It gives a spectacular guided tour of modern Luxembourg,
a country I knew nothing about before seeing this movie. It places
special emphasis on institutional parts of that country, such
as hospitals and police stations. We also see a lot of restaurants
and work places, as well as locations specific to the non-European
community, such as a hostel for immigrants. The tone of all this
material is sober. It aims neither for fairy tale like tourist
shots, but it also avoids the shocking or the sordid. Instead,
it tries to convey what typical life in Luxembourg might actually
look like, for people who work there and live there. It is deeply
exploratory, constantly taking the viewer to some interesting
place they've never seen before.
The Mystery Quest
The mystery tone of Black Dju is also low key. The early
stages of the movie emphasize how lonely and isolated the African
hero is, in a country where he has few contacts. This sense of
being lost in a big, at best indifferent world sets the tone of
the mystery, as well. It implies that the hero's Dad is in trouble,
that his life has been swamped by some unpleasant catastrophe.
The movie faithfully adheres to this implication.
The film also depicts the hero's quest as an exciting adventure.
It has the structure of a traditional myth, that of the hero on
a noble quest in a strange land. This mood too is sustained throughout
the film. It helps make this tale entertaining throughout.
In general, Black Dju attempts to entertain the viewer.
It is what most moviegoers would think of as an entertaining picture.
It is a good movie, mixing mystery, adventure, an educational
look at another country, and worthwhile social commentary. It
is a film that should be better known.
A comparison with La Promesse
Black Dju makes an interesting companion piece to a film
that is much better known in the United States, the Dardenne Brothers'
La Promesse (The Promise) (1996). La Promesse also
depicts African immigrants working in the Low Countries, this
time in neighboring Belgium. Both films are French language works.
Both offer much social criticism:
I am far too ignorant of social conditions
in Europe to offer any evaluation of how realistic either film
is. One further variable: the immigrants in La Promesse
are also illegals, who seem to have been smuggled into the country
illegally, whereas the immigrants in Black Dju seem to
be there on legal work permits. This might make their conditions
- La Promesse paints an
appalling picture of horrendous, unsafe working conditions, starvation
wages and slum housing faced by immigrants.
- By contrast, most
of the social criticism in Black Dju is of the police,
and the government policies they are enforcing. Black Dju
depicts the government as anti-immigrant, and the immigration
police as appalling racist thugs who constantly harass immigrant
workers. It also suggests that these actions reflect broader racist
beliefs among at least some of the population as a whole. The
actual work and living conditions of the immigrants in Black
Dju seem decent, and are vastly better than those depicted
in La Promesse.
The two levels of living conditions in the films help
determine the films' tones: La Promesse is a tragedy, while
Black Dju is ultimately an adventure story. Black Dju
is also filled with wry humor, something missing in the other