Scen.: André Gide, Marc Allégret. F.: Marc Allégret. M.: Marc Allégret, Alberto Cavalcanti. Prod.: Pierre Braunberger, Néo-Films. DCP. Bn.
In 1925, Marc Allégret directed his first feature, a documentary film about Equatorial Africa entitled Voyage au Congo in which he respectfully reveals his esteem for the peoples encountered, the ordinary gestures, the games, dances and rituals, the physical beauty and the landscape. André Gide, the instigator of this project, was at that time working under the auspices of the Ministry for the Colonies. Gide was already an established writer. He had dreamt of travels through Africa from an early age and expressed renewed interest in the continent after his friend, the Protestant clergyman Élie Allégret (Marc’s father) came home from Cameroon in October 1922. Gide decided to arrange a trip and asked the filmmaker-to-be to act as his secretary and help arrange an itinerary. And so it was that Marc Allégret organized the expedition as well as preparing and shooting this perilous film entirely on his own. […]
The two men embarked on L’Asie, a liner, departing Bordeax for Dakar on July 18th, 1925. Eleven months later, on May 31st, 1926, they returned to Bordeaux. […] Marc Allégret shot Voyage au Congo with no previous filmmaking experience, with the constraint of a main job working for André Gide, keeping to his itinerary and his pace of travel.
[…] Voyage au Congo is an astonishingly uncluttered work, unusually so for the period. It focuses not on the two men and their journeying but on the places and unique tribes encountered that were unknown to the general public of the day.
As Marc Allégret was cutting his film, André Gide published, in 1927, with Gallimard, a travel diary entitled Voyage au Congo, then, one year later, Le Retour au Tchad (Return to Chad). In some sense, the film represents an animated representation of André Gide’s diaries. But it remains a work of art in its own right, offering a point of view that is not the writer’s. The book assumes a political tone, criticizing the misdeeds of colonial government. Though Marc Allégret shared this view, his film seems content to describe the beauty of the people encountered. “The play of sunlight on dark skin upon which water laid a shiny coat of polished bronze”, deliberately ignores the presence of colonial authorities and white settlers. The director also enjoys including a love story, as in a drama. This is an unlikely sequence that marks a break with usual travel documentary modes that rely on a process of detachment to preserve a naturalistic spontaneity in the individuals depicted.
Restored by Les Films du Panthéon in collaboration with Les Films du Jeudi with the support of CNC – Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée and Cinémathèque française at Hiventy laboratory from the original negative print preserved by CNC, a controtype preserved by Cinémathèque française and a copy from BFI – National Archive. Original score composed by Mauro Coceano