Discuss some of the ways in which Claire Denim's Chocolate uses familiar techniques in cinema to comment upon the relationship between the French Colonials and the native African inhabitants of French Cameroon.
The theme's of colonization and neocolonialism that are the driving force behind Claire Denim's masterpiece Chocolate, can be highly attributed to her own personal experiences whilst spending her childhood in colonial Africa.
Albeit a child, Denim's complete immersion into colonial life at this point, has had great influence on her eater works, with her characters consistently being confronted by prejudice and cultural and social alienation. Denis particularly excels at demonstrating the relationship and difference in status between the French Colonials and their "inferior" counter-parts, the native African inhabitants of French Cameroon. This toxic relationship is portrayed by extensive use of cinema techniques, such as miss-en scene, camera work, sound and lighting.
Through such techniques she perfectly reflects the segregation both social and physical, of the two classes, the exploitation f the Compressions, and Intrinsically woven of relations and power hierarchy between the Individual Compressions and Colonials.
The long lasting affect of colonization Is also a very poignant message throughout the piece, even when skipping into the future we see a Cameroon that cannot fully shake it's Colonial past.
As soon as the film begins through Denim's understated use of camera work, we are immediately made aware of the separation between...
the different races in modern day post-colonial Cameroon. The shot begins with France sitting on one side of the each, upright and proper. As we follow her gaze as the camera pans out all the way along the beach to where Mongo and his son are lying flat on the ground, at one with the Earth.
Through this Initial long shot, demonstrating the physical distance between France and Mongo, as the camera stretches along the seemingly never ending beach, we are made aware of the Inferred symbolic meaning: the distance between them Is more than purely spatial. They are separated by racial and cultural ties. This separation is what keeps France fascinated by Mongo and his child as they AP up the waves, and also what stops her from approaching them. She knows there are boundaries due to race that cannot be crossed.
When we are first introduced to Prope, due to miss-en-SCen and the framing of the shot, we are instantly aware of his relationship to the other characters and status in the household hierarchy.
Denis positions Prope at the back of the truck, we are made aware that he is considered to be inferior by the other adult characters, as although he Is a full grown man, he is not deemed worthy off seat and is therefore made to compromise his dignity. In this same scene we are given our first Insight into the relationship of France and Prope as they both share one frame.
This shows that despite the fact she Is a little girl and he Is an adult male, they still are equals. As the film progresses we see a change develop, when Prope talks to the scribe, changes as she commands
him to come back, humiliating him. We see that the longer she spends in colonial lifestyle the more aware she becomes in the differences between race, putting a strain on their relationship.
Claire Denis uses techniques such as lighting and miss-en-SCen to show that the
Camerawoman characters have a poor relationship with the Colonials. On several occasions the lighting and positioning of characters in a scene shows he colonials exerting their so called 'superiority over the colonials, for example the scene on the porch when Luck is eating with the house staff, they all remain seated on the floor, in almost utter darkness. In contrast Aime is positioned far away from them on the lit porch, standing above them all, refusing to Join them. Therefore asserting her position as the overseer of all.
The lighting and stance of the characters is vital in honing this imbalance of power. Another example of this, is after the dinner party scene, when Delphic retreats to his room to visit his housekeeper. She is sitting on the floor, even though there is a bed in the shot, proving she is not of worth to sit on the bed. The lighting is pitch black except from the slits of the blinds which create a prison bar like impression over her face, symbolizing the constrictions binding her due to her race and gender.
Denim's simplistic stylistic approach when it comes to cinematic techniques, means that little sound and music is used to create dramatic effect. In turn there is also very little dialogue, this means that the majority of emotion is expressed through body language and gesture. Propex.'s on screen position in the dining room scene also gives away crucial information about how he is valued within colonial society, he is consistently in the background of every shot, yet we forget he is there as the dinner party guests act completely ignorant of his existence.
His head is also cut off in many shot's, leaving him denied of his right to communicate his emotions and partake in the scene. This represents the ever presence of the native Compressions in colonial society yet lack of acknowledgment and gratification they receive from the colonials. At certain points in the film, we glimpse the fact that although the native Compressions have no power, it is a slight grey area when it comes to sex. Aime is irrevocably attracted to Prope and to an extent this makes her vulnerable to him.
However, Denis shows through the shared gaze of Prope and Aime, in the scene where he fastens up her dress,for a split moment, he is her equal. Denim's use of little dialogue hammers home the importance of this gaze,proving that even for a little hill, the pure chemistry between the two of them alludes to the possibility that something romantic could occur between them, as by returning her gaze, proves Aime does see Prope as something more than Just her property.
However, Chocolate is far from a softhearted romance, where love conquers all boundaries. We see this in the scene when Aime attempts to show her affection for Prope
by stretching out for his leg.
In this scene she is positioned crouching underneath the curtain, after she reaches out for him, he carefully crouches down towards her and then abruptly lulls her up to his level. This is Propex.'s way of reminding her that she is above him In the last scene Denis subtly shows us that the relationship between Compressions is still one of exploitation.
This is shown through a combination of miss-en-SCen and the choice of music.
In the shot we see African craft being uploaded into an airplane for Western Markets, this shows that industrialized nations still rely on underdeveloped countries to make an additional profit. Westerners are taking what used to be a way of life and mass producing it to benefit themselves and no one gives t a second thought. As music is so rare throughout Chocolate, makes it's usage even more telling.
The music this scene is upbeat traditional African sounding style, either hinting that they are blissfully ignorant of the fact they are being exploited or perhaps simply that due to the hold the colonial empire has had over Cameroon they have Just grown to accept this exploitation and see it as part of everyday life.
In conclusion, Denim's understated use of lighting, miss-en-SCen, framing and sound, all highlight the key points in the relationships between the natives and colonials. The general attitude of the colonials is that the Compressions are beneath them, unworthy of attention and respect.
Denis shows this through placing the colonials higher to represent status, using the contrast of light and darkness to show this idea of superiority. The lack of dialogue is also effectively used to illuminate this, this means we are given a psychological insight into the characters through their gestures, but Denis prohibits the Compressions from this interaction by cutting them off in shots.
Reflecting the lack of communication between the colonials and natives, he colonials not deeming them capable of having thoughts and opinions.
However, it could be counter argued that at points Aime manages to let this stigma slip her mind as we see through the MIS-en-scene of their gaze: their relationship is a complicated one, dripping with taboo and lust. However, at no point do they overcome the racial barrier, Prope reminds her of this through his gesture and through music and the camera work of the last scene, we see that this exploitation of the colonials and disregard for their humanity is never quite overcome.
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