Sun 12 Nov    •    12:30    •    Watershed

Soleil Ô

part of Africa’s Lost Classics

Curated by Dr Jacqueline Maingard, Reader in Film, University of Bristol

Director: Med Hondo 
Cast: Robert LiensolThéo LégitimusGabriel Glissant
Mauritania/France, 1969, 102 mins, French/Arabic with English subtitles, 15


In West Africa, black men line up before a white priest for baptism and renaming. In France, colonial blacks, encouraged by propaganda, arrive to seek a better life. What they find is far from the welcome they were promised. Rather, they face unemployment, blatant racism, bureaucratic indifference, rejection and humiliation. A scathing attack on colonialism, the film is also a shocking exposé of racism and a brutal indictment of Western capitalist values, as relevant today as it was in the 1960s.

Searching for a new cinematic language, Mauritanian director Med Hondo eschewed conventional narrative forms in this experimental masterpiece. From the stylized and surreal opening sequences to the episodic adventures of a particular man, the director presents a series of imaginative set pieces linked by voice-over.

The film first screened at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival, and screened again at Cannes in 2017, celebrating its restoration by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation. Soleil O is as important as Battle of Algiers in its anti-colonial urgency, and is rightly celebrated by scholars and critics as occupying a central place in the history of African film. After the recent restoration of the film, this is one of the first chances to view it in the UK.