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Lumumba, a new film that opens this Friday at the Music Box in Chicago, is a history lesson that doesn't work as narrative and a fictional film that doesn't work as history. Based on the true story of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of Zaire, the movie chronicles Lumumba's stay in power, which lasted all of two months before he was murdered by his enemies.

Patrice Lumumba is clearly an important figure in 20th-century African history, as he helped gain Zaire's independence from Belgium and struggled to unify the huge and unwieldy country. But the movie's attempt to
immortalize Lumumba is undercut by the inherent limitations of a 96-minute film. Through we're given a little background about his rise though the independence movement, only those already deeply familiar with
post-colonial Zaire will be able to make sense of the various factions and conspiracies. And Joseph Mobutu (who would succeed Lumumba and rule Zaire for decades) appears as a somewhat ominous figure, but his role is nebulous at best.

Eriq Ebouaney deserves high praise for his portrayal of Lumumba, however, and the movie might be worth seeing just to see his performance. He powerfully captures the heady days of independence but also the extent to which Lumumba was out of his depth. But the movie marginalizes Ebouaney's charisma with its emphasis on linear, connect-the-dots history. Too many meetings and "important" events, not enough of Lumumba himself. 

J. Robert Parks 7/25/2001



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