Berlinale 2021 review: Just a Movement (Vincent Meessen)

A hybrid combination of a documentary and a film essay, Just a Movement is dedicated to Marxist activist Omar Blondin Diop. After being deported from France in 1969, Diop continued his activism back in Senegal, mainly pointing his arrows at then-president Léopold Sédar Senghor in an effort to overthrow the government. Diop was arrested and sentenced to prison, where he would die shortly after in what many believe was a government-sanctioned assassination. Just a Movement recounts Diop’s life and intellectual legacy through the blending of his actions as a Senegalese activist and intellectual with his role as one of the protagonists, playing himself, in Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise while he was still studying in France.

To recreate and contextualize this specific time, Just a Movement has a myriad of recounting testimonies that gradually construct the story, using non-frontal interviews with Diop’s brothers and friends, first-hand witnesses. Through the framing of each shot, the director underlines that their focus is always turned away, as if they are searching for a ghost, for the memory of their friend and brother. A friend and brother whose ideas and attitudes they reminisce about, in addition to demanding the truth about his life and death. Yet the purpose of Just a Movement is not to create a faithful and definitive portrait of Diop’s life, and also not to, as one of his relatives says, prop him up as a martyr or place him in a category that would deem him a figure of the past. The goal here is to recognize his inspiring presence that is still felt in Senegal today.

For that, Belgian director Vincent Meessen takes the participation of Omar Blondin Diop in La Chinoise as a starting point and an opportunity to delve into the approach used by Godard, transferring it to present-day Dakar, Senegal, inverting its geographical and political center. In Just a Movement history and cinema intersect as a continuous flow, full of spiraling overlays, going back to the steps in Nanterre of La Chinoise and transposing that film’s questions and legacy to today’s Dakar. Through this cinematographic exercise that combines the factual and concrete form of a documentary with the reflective and theoretical characteristics of a film essay, Meessen tries to interfere in days gone by and in the here and now, in the Senegal of the past and the Senegal of the present, in order to question the symbiosis that in this case has been created through political and artistic thought.