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Film / Black and White in Color

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Black and White in Color is a 1976 film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. It was a co-production between France and Ivory Coast.

The film is set in January 1915 in Fort Coulais, a small, dusty, entirely obscure and forgotten trading post somewhere in French Equatorial Africa. Hubert Fresnoy, a teacher and botanist at the trading post, receives a large package of long-delayed mail. As the residents of the trading post read the newspapers and other articles sent to them, they realize that France has been at war with Germany for several months. Out of a feeling of patriotic duty, and also because there is nothing else to do there in the butt-end of Nowhere, the six Frenchmen at the trading post resolve to impress the local Africans into an army and attack the even tinier German trading post not far away.

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Black and White in Color was submitted by Ivory Coast to the Academy Awards and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It remains only one of two films from the entire continent of Africa to win the Oscar, the other being Tsotsi.


Tropes:

  • Canon Immigrant: This film was originally titled La Victoire en chantant ("Victory sings") in France, from a line in a French martial song. Since that reference would be lost to international viewers the international release was titled Black and White in Color. Then, when the film was re-released in 1977 in France after winning the Oscar, it was titled Noirs et Blancs en couleur.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The very first scene shows a German officer conducting military drill with African soldiers. While none of the Germans or their men are seen on camera again until the very end of the film, this opening scene establishes that the Germans actually have a trained-up army. Thus it is not surprising when the silly little French expedition is hurled back in defeat.
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  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The grand French attack on the German post is thrown back in disorderly retreat when it turns out that the Germans have a machine gun.
  • Evil Colonialist: Pretty much all the white people in Fort Coulais except for Hubert. They have nothing but contempt for the locals and treat them as subhuman.
  • Gilligan Cut: As the Africans build fortifications, one of the priests says "We won't wait until the rainy season to give the Krauts a thrashing." Cut to the rainy season, with a Biblical storm pouring in the French trench as a German voice calls for them to surrender.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: The African porters carrying a white man on a litter sing a song about how all white people are fat and their feet stink. The clueless Frenchman on the litter says "I love this song."
  • I Have No Son!: "I don't have a brother", says the less dumb Rechampot brother after his dumber brother ratted him out for hiding sugar.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Used throughout the opening credits which play over a series of old-timey photos of French soldiers.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Leon can't satisfy his horny wife.
    "Don't you ever get excited anymore?"
  • Mildly Military: The ridiculous little "army" formed by the French. They march the Africans out after less than a day of training.
  • National Geographic Nudity: Seen from a few of the female villagers.
  • Of Corsets Sexy: When Marianne the town whore isn't wearing a half-open blouse, she's wearing a corset.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Mercilessly lampooned.
  • Polyamory: Apparently Marianne is in a relationship with both the Rechampot brothers.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Hubert seems like the only white person in the settlement who isn't a dirtbag idiot. He questions the point of launching a military strike against the German post when, for all the Frenchmen know, the war might already be over. He also questions the rather idiotic sergeant who barks out a recruitment speech in the French language that almost none of the locals can understand. Yet when the French attack on the German settlement is soundly defeated, Hubert takes over, and installs a totalitarian regime in the little settlement. He seizes private property for military stores, and, far worse, he arranges with friendly chiefs for other Africans to be kidnapped and impressed into slavery in their little colonial army. At the end, when Hubert meets his German counterpart, both of them muse about how they used to be enlightened socialists.
  • Too Important to Walk: The priests at the French mission, apparently, carried on a litter. And all the Frenchmen except for Hubert when they march off to attack the German trading post.

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