Pol Cruchten | Black Dju

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Pol Cruchten

Black Dju

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 population.

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 better.

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 film.