This past Thursday I went to see the Virunga premiere at the TriBeCa Film Festival with a couple of work friends. The documentary follows park rangers in the eponymous Congolese national park as they work to protect endangered mountain gorillas and other wildlife from poachers and encroachment by oil development interests. It’s a super powerful film (and super adorable thanks to the special bond between one of the rangers, Andre, and the orphaned gorillas he cares for).
Most of the movie’s dialogue is in French and was even more easy for me to understand than the French Sesame Street episodes I’ve taken to watching lately. (Sadly, my approximately 75% comprehension rate of Cinq Rue Sesame leads me to believe that I’m about as proficient in French as your average Parisian three year old.) Congolese French is spoken more slowly and with different enunciation than French French. The words are sounded out more like how they would be in English – fewer silent letters and half formed, nasally vowels. That’s my decidedly nonlinguist’s take on it, at least. I was able to ignore the subtitles for most of the movie and still completely get the drift even if I didn’t catch every word.
Apart from the convenient French practice it provided, this film was beautifully made. The cinematography was as conscientiously crafted and the story arc as tightly, dramatically structured as in a fiction film (though I’ve noticed these qualities cropping up in more and more documentaries these days). Even the sound design seemed stolen from a Hollywood thriller, to engaging – if a little melodramatic – effect.
We attended a reception after the film and when Andre showed up I rushed over to him before anyone else could swoop in and gushed in my mangled French about how wonderful he is. (He really is. He puts his life at serious risk to keep the park’s animals safe from harm and to keep the park safe for future generations.) As with Cinq Rue Sesame, I think I got about 75% of what he was saying and he got – I hope – 75% of what I was saying. I prefer to look at that glass as three quarters full…
Above, Andre with a beloved gorilla buddy.