cinetopia film festival: white colour black

Written by Jack McCoy


Courtesy of Cinetopia Film Festival program

Courtesy of Cinetopia Film Festival program

Concerning a young British photographer (Dudley O’Shaughnessy) whose father in Senegal passes, White Colour Black is a piece of auteur cinema whose audience will react best to if patient. It’s challenging in that its pace is very deliberate, relying on the conflict being that which arises from a lack of action on the part of the protagonist, the opposite most film.


It is split into three sections, the beginning in London where the photographer, Leke, goes about his daily life as a young adult. There is a lot of frank depictions of sex, unsensationalized nudity, drug use, and artistic schmoozing as he attends a gallery he has photos in. He keeps receiving phone calls about his father’s worsening health until he is dead. The father too was a well-known photographer who lived the majority of his life in Senegal. Leke’s internal conflict, the driving force of the film, is implied by O’Shaughnessy’s performance and the imagery created by Adesunloye and cinematographer Rory Skeoch, a collaboration worthy of admiration. I believe the conflict to be Leke’s inability to ever call back and confront where he came from. It is implied that the relationship he had with his father had become toxic over the course of the years, but no details are given. When his father passes, he is forced to return to Senegal, where the rest of the film takes place.


Formally, the film follows an observer, which is much of what the film consists of. The audience watches him watch, and his internal issues becomes clear though his environment. This reminds me of much of Antonioni’s work, especially La Notte and Blowup, which stylistically appears to be referenced. Much limited space is used in composition, shifting the focus from Leke to his location. Something interesting is that much of it appears to be very carefully planned, and portions seemed to have been put together spontaneously, which feels very Malickian at times (which it feels like in terms of personal subject matter as well). The colors of the film are very limited, determined by where it takes place. The London scenes are almost artificial in their monochrome, which is juxtaposed with Senegal’s naturalistic and vibrant colors, which Leke’s city-clothes clashes with wonderfully.


It’s worth mentioning the level of attentiveness required for a film like this.  In these days of American colonial filmmaking depicting mass-destruction and superheroes stopping holes above cities, “cinema that heals” is rare and often looked over for the crime of challenging the status-quo. To show the coping mechanisms Leke has fallen under, to show the youth of London and of the millennial generation, there is no simple statement. There is repetition of events, instilling the idea that his actions are habitual. When the father dies, there is no shock from Leke nor the audience, only the deep sadness of knowing what was to come had arrived. Near the end of the film, the reaction the community Leke enters reverses their opinion of him, offering a second chance as he corrects a mistake, opting to take action as opposed to abstaining from it as he does for the majority of the film. This too doesn’t come as much of a surprise for the audience. The surprise comes from the action Leke takes, so we know he’s changed fundamentally. He’s doing something, something different from all the stagnation that came before.

All film has two goals. The first is to depict either change or stagnation. This is a film which shows stagnation become change, one that readily shows it through the style of its storytelling. The second goal is similar: to create change in the viewer. Sometimes it’s to challenge previously held beliefs, sometimes a change in feeling. Regardless, it makes an impact.


Not a lot of films add up to something, but this one does. It’s not the most readily accessible film in the world, but for those artistically inclined, it’s necessary viewing.


Featured at the 2017 Cinetopia Film Festival in Ann Arbor and Detroit, MI. The festival took place June 1st - 11th and featured “the best films from the world’s best film festivals.”

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