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We Come as Friends - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
We Come as Friends
Directing: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B

We Come as Friends may be a rare example of a documentary in which the filmmakers try a little too hard to be objective. This is a mere reflection, albeit a largely stylized one, of both the history and the current state of affairs in South Sudan. Surely plenty of movie-goers, particularly American ones, would do well to be educated on these matters. But Austrian director Hubert Sauper doesn't seem to have any particular argument here, only a presentation of the state of affairs with no proposed solutions. The result is a lingering sense of hopelessness. You should totally go see it!

If you know next to nothing about South Sudan, aside from the fact that it's in Africa, this movie teaches you these things: the southern portion seceded to become its own, Christian country, free from the oppression of Arabs in the north. The perspective here is almost exclusively that of the South Sudanese, who establish a government as much tied to Jesus as the northern one is to Mohammed. But this is all in the context of a history of colonialism that brought the guns to the area that the Africans now use against each other, and the countries currently buying 10% of their land. Big players include, of course, the U.S. and China. But other countries factor in significantly too, many of them European. At one point we see a chart that shows the countless countries different land mines that might be found came from.

There is much posturing among all these players regarding foreign investment and how it will "help" South Sudan. Unless you're also a devout Christian who thinks these people are doing God's work, none of it is likely to come across as comforting. Watching a Texan missionary state that "The only cultural things we're trying to change are what goes against the Bible" is enough to make someone with a lot of white guilt feel deeply uncomfortable.

We Come as Friends ends with a dedication to all the people featured, including those missionaries, who insist on conditioning the native Africans to wear clothes and call the area "New Texas." This is a pervasive sentiment: the country's own president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, proudly wears a cowboy hat gifted to him by President George W. Bush.

Most of what we see of political leaders is just stock footage or live television footage, though. Hubert Sauper spends his time with the locals, and the foreign "do-gooders" who spend time with them. This makes for a lot of indelible, haunting imagery. So much garbage on the ground, in areas that look like an average dump. African children at play, jumping right into it. Humanitarian workers, all of them white, having a party and congratulating themselves for helping to usher in peace. An African man in a bar, speaking with relish at the thought of the suggested construction of an airport, which would provide jobs to locals -- so they could clean it. This is what passes for dreaming.

A lot of the cinematography is unusually polished for a documentary, often featuring eerie sequences in an oddly beautiful context. We Come as Friends is rife with irony and jarring imagery and ideas. It's also necessarily broad, resulting in a lack of any pinpointed insight. It moves between the melancholy and the surreal. There isn't a lot of joy, and when there is, it's on the part of those who would exploit the general population.

Early on, an African man talks about when the first humans traveled to the moon -- all of them white. "Do you know that the moon belongs to the white man?" he says. So much is conveyed in that question; I made particular note of it. And even Hubert Sauper brings it up again at the end of the film, so clearly he wanted us to take note. In the end, maybe that's all he wanted to say with this movie. It's not ideal but it's the way things are. Hooray, fun times at the cinema!

Colonialism and business collide in the unusually stylized documentary WE COME AS FRIENDS.

Overall: B
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