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Les maîtres fous 1955
Description: The topics of the movie was the Hauka movement. The Hauka movement consisted of mimicry and dancing to become possessed by French Colonial administrators. The participants performed the same elaborate military ceremonies of their colonial occupiers, but in more of a trance than real recreation.
Released: 07 Dec 1995 Director: Jean Rouch Writers: N/A Actors: Jean Rouch Genres: Documentary, Short, Horror
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See Jean Rouch - Initiation à la d on youtube.

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See LA CHUTE DU GÉNIE YA MWEI by J on youtube.

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See 1001 Movies (1955) on youtube.

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Les maîtres fous Reviews:

I had been looking for this movie for a nice three years to no avail. It had come highly suggested by one of my more esoteric friends, one of those folks whose greatest lists are topped with movies that nobody has ever seen nor heard of, so I figured it was a lost cause. But his manic and passionate description of this so-called documentary intrigued me, and I made a silent note in my head to hold my ears and eyes open. Later it became my elusive holy movie grail: I played detective, draining each possible resource from Kim's Video in Fresh York to eBay...I even had a mate of mine scour the Smithsonian anthropology archives in my quest, but the find was fruitless, my energies depleted, my mind numb and wandering to more easy accessible filmmakers. Then last night, I watched the news: An rare planetary alignment expected tomorrow, Earth, Mars, Saturn, Venus, Jupiter... This was the same night I saw les Maitres Fous for the first time, in a possibility screening at Fresh York's Movie Forum, presented by Werner Herzog, along with other nice movie named 'Sans Soleil' by Chris Marker. Talk about planetary alignment! Herzog presented it by telling this movie was shot for virtually no money, on a 16mm Bolex wind-up camera, and the effect was in his opinion, one of the best movies ever made. I sat during this thirty odd minute experience, at first confused, then disturbed, then fascinated, then finally entrained. Whatever it was that I was privy to during this movie was magnificently effective and at times profoundly disturbing and apocalyptic. The movie follows a tribe of West Africans in 1955 ruled and oppressed by British colonialists; they work difficult labor, for tiny money, the same storyline said by generations of Africans when Europe had control over most of the continent. They devised initiation rituals within their tribe in which they work themselves into a type of therapeutic ecstatic rage, 'possessed' by incarnations of the British elite class: soldiers, generals, governors; rituals that involve thriving, screaming, foaming at the mouth, self mutilation, flagellation, animal sacrifice, all as ways to protect themselves mentally and spiritually from what might be an otherwise rage-inducing role in colonial society. This enables them to resume labor the next day as subservient working class, but regenerated and spiritually cleansed. In few bizarre sequences, we watch the very primal and brutal dances these young boys place themselves through, in order to achieve the desired catharsis, akin to my memories of adolescence where I screamed and punched my walls at the top of my lungs until I was out of energy and breath, a natural reaction to bottled frustration -- a diversionary strategy to potential outward violence by inflicting the pain instead upon myself. They tap into this ingrained potential energy, and intuitive body rhythms, and at times it almost seems like a well choreographed dance, but there is a dark and primal spontaneous sense all though these ritual that while it is very theatrical, the pain and empathy is very real. Herzog afterwords even named it 'a deep glance into the darkest hell and abyss of the human soul'... The rituals are also very constructive and surreal, compared to the dull monotony of their daily jobs, it seems a rather positive, albeit extreme, outlet for these energies and frustrations. In a spectacular series of final shots, we see these same boys the next day, in their 'proper' societal roles, as truck drivers, salesmen, hospital attendants, all smiling for the camera, as though the day before had never happened. It's disturbing that their rituals are what modern day psychology might call 'coping mechanisms'. This type of collective spiritual purging is virtually unseen or unspoken of in Western society, where I can only imagine it would be considered taboo or blasphemy to act out some of what these boys do. The movie is endlessly fascinating, and an essential ethnographic document, though how much is 'documentary', I do not know. It is so enormously strong and surreal it is difficult to trust that any of it is 'real'. I suppose the word 'real' is inefficient at describing any film, document or not, but what is fact is that undoubtedly these boys and the theater-going audience were profoundly affected. I would tell that the larger picture was revealed to me by the end of this film, and it connects all cultures around the world: Society creates the need for such irrational and insane practices, just in order to maintain order and sanity.


Easy premise of this movie is to follow the results of colonialism on indigenous Africans via specific rituals developed as a reaction to the colonial system. The movie turns into a crazy elaboration on both the madness of such a political system and boy himself. At once we are amazed and confused by the violent and involved trance that the Africans take part in; however, we are, at the same time, forced to recognize the power that the camera may have over those in front of it. That is, the very "reality" of a documentary is dissolved or, at least, questioned. Disturbing and essential.


This rare and interesting piece of movie really struck me when I watched it. I was already expecting something like those old National Geographic movies I remember seeing actually and then as a kid, they gotta have shown them on TV at some point. This however is a bit various in that you are presented at times with quite horrific imagery and scenarios. As long as you have an launch mind and are not going to receive squeamish at the ritual sacrifice of a chicken, (a dog too but you do not see this at least), then I would tell that everyone could watch this! These Africans are showing a quasi-religious ceremony that is an obvious reaction and mocking of the British colony masters. Every Hauka is dressed to represent some Colonel or General etc and they mock them whilst at the same time, showing a very intense and, at times, frightening display of trance and 'spiritual' behaviour. Watching this film has opened my eyes to what I already loved to watch but did not know the term for it: Ethnographic Cinema. Ethnography. There are so many nice movies of records of Africans and Tribal peoples around the globe and I search them so interesting. In fact this one isn't as nice as a couple I already got a keep of and have just watched (Turkana Conversations Trilogy (1974) - Three movies by David Macdougall & Judith Macdougall - Shot in Turkana, Kenya.) I highly suggest you checking those out if you search yourself being fascinated by this film.



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