Lost Heritage

| September 27, 2011

Pierre Mombin (Luc Saint Eloy) goes on a voyage to a remote yet breathtaking part of Africa to claim an inheritance and to gather more insight regarding his royal lineage. He eventually learns that he is the descendant of Olimbe, the younger brother to Olanga. Olimbe was set to reign as King but out of jealousy and envy, Olanga sold Olimbe into slavery. This treacherous act incited a curse over the land. Mombin’s return to Africa fulfills a prophecy of old that peace would be restored only after Olimbe’s descendant fought a great fire. When Mombin arrives in Africa, he is under the protective care of Prime Minister Ogou, a respected elderly leader. Ogou teaches Mombin about the cultural traditions and codes of conduct of the Southern Kingdom.
The humor arises as Mombin fumbles over some of the customs. For instance, when a woman bowed down to greet him, Mombin bowed on his knees in return. The natives look at him in disbelief and Ogou is there to save face by pulling Mombin up. Another hilarious moment was when the witch doctor, Anoko, couldn’t be found, Mombin regrettably learns the tradition that the King follows second in line to help deliver babies. As Mombin becomes comfortable with royal treatment, he ponders, “Slowly, Africa started to get inside of me. [Africa is] far from the stereotypes of famine, war, and AIDS.”
Meanwhile, King Agbor of the North offers one of his daughters in marriage to Mombin. This is a political move to keep peace between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. When Mombin is told by the princess in secret that she is pregnant and wants a life of her own, he gives the princess and her lover a generous financial gift so that they “could follow their own destiny.” Mombin thinks modernly and tries to interact with the native elders as such. When an issue arises, Mombin recommends the elders vote on a solution. Ogou replied, “Democracy is not a word to translate in our language. It is the King who decides.”
The film has more twists and turns in the plot that may catch you by surprise. As the film ends, Mombin saves the kingdom from imminent destruction, and the curse is lifted as prophesied. Christian Lara is masterfully skilled at weaving the clash between traditional mores and a renaissance of new ideas throughout the film. I appreciate that Lara captured the richness and glory of African terrain.
Although the film is potent, I find it difficult to declare Lost Heritage as family-friendly. A great deal of cinematography focuses on topless women bathing and dancing. Heck, even a topless mermaid speaks to Mombin in a vision. Whether Lara is pointing out that the women in this kingdom are proud of their bodies and walk around unashamedly, the fact remains the women are still forced into prearranged marriages and must run away to have true love. Or maybe Lara knows that in film, sex and naked flesh sells. An official selection for the Montreal World, Cairo International, and Goa International Film Festivals, Lost Heritage holds steady ground as an enjoyable adult film.

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