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MaryEllen Higgins

Sékou Traoré’s 2015 feature film debut, L’oeil du cyclone (Eye of the Storm), imagines the fate of a former child soldier named Blackshouam (Fargass Assandé), now an adult being tried for his crimes in an unnamed nation. It is a valuable film on several levels, among them the conversations it will likely spark about the aftermath of traumatized childhood, memory and identity, coercion and agency, innocence and responsibility. Part courtroom drama, the film brings the problem of representation to the fore. Initially, Blackshouam appears to be a crazed, dangerous killer. He does not speak. His lawyer, Emma Tou (Maimouna N’Diaye), manages to coax him into conversing, but tries to prevent him from speaking in court in order to defend him more effectively, complicating what we mean by the “unspeakability” of child soldiering and trauma. Her decisions [End Page 320] about what must be emphasized or omitted from the case function as a running commentary on how innocence and guilt are constructed. Indeed, while Traoré devotes significant screen time to Blackshouam’s stories, the main focus is on Emma, the woman who agrees, after much hesitation, to represent him.

How, then, are childhood soldiering and its aftermath represented? Familiar visual images of child soldiers in Africa open and close the film: photographs of children with AK-47s accompany both the opening credits and the c ... Read Full Review

Sékou Traoré’s 2015 feature film debut, L’oeil du cyclone (Eye of the Storm), imagines the fate of a former child soldier named Blackshouam (Fargass Assandé), now an adult being tried for his crimes in an unnamed nation. It is a valuable film on several levels, among them the conversations it will likely spark about the aftermath of traumatized childhood, memory and identity, coercion and agency, innocence and responsibility. Part courtroom drama, the film brings the problem of representation to the fore. Initially, Blackshouam appears to be a crazed, dangerous killer. He does not speak. His lawyer, Emma Tou (Maimouna N’Diaye), manages to coax him into conversing, but tries to prevent him from speaking in court in order to defend him more effectively, complicating what we mean by the “unspeakability” of child soldiering and trauma. Her decisions [End Page 320] about what must be emphasized or omitted from the case function as a running commentary on how innocence and guilt are constructed. Indeed, while Traoré devotes significant screen time to Blackshouam’s stories, the main focus is on Emma, the woman who agrees, after much hesitation, to represent him. How, then, are childhood soldiering and its aftermath represented? Familiar visual images of child soldiers in Africa open and close the film: photographs of children with AK-47s accompany both the opening credits and the closing text. In between these photos lies a portrait of a man who is both victim and perpetrator, a cinematic embodiment of what Catarina Martins calls “the innocent perpetrator paradox” (in “The Dangers of the Single Story: Child-Soldiers in Literary Fiction and Film,” Childhood 18 [4], 2011). Blackshouam witnessed the killing of his family by “liberation front” rebels at the age of eight, was tortured by the rebels who recruited him, and is haunted by the faces of the people he has killed himself. He hears the screams of his victims at night in his cell. He speaks briefly about emptiness and forgetting. Yet he is also a person who recalls his first experiences as a murderer with laughter, one who is proud of his nom de guerre, Hitler-Mussolini. The police try to torture him and people on the street call him a monster; as an adult, Blackshouam still oscillates between being the perpetrator and the target of violence. As Myriam Denov writes, child soldiers are typically portrayed within three categorical identities: as “dangerous and disorderly,” as the “hapless victim,” or, when rehabilitated, as the heroes of humanitarian narratives. They are “either time bombs or innocents or heroes” (“Child Soldiers and Iconography: Portrayals and (Mis)representations,” Children & Society 26 [4], 2012). Fargass Assandé delivers a moving performance as a vulnerable yet volatile man who cannot escape survival mode, and Maimouna N’Diaye is compelling as the lawyer who sees her client as a victim of manipulation, yet the film ultimately takes the time-bomb route. The final credits, which appear alongside a photographic image of a child with an AK-47, assert that former child soldiers “represent a time bomb for the whole continent.” The credits mirror the words of French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, who stated that the child soldier phenomenon “is a time bomb that threatens stability and economic growth in Africa and beyond (Nick Tattersall, “Child Soldiers Still Recruited 10 Years after Pact,” Washington Post, Feb. 5, 2007). In the film there is no alternative image of an adult who manages to integrate peacefully in the aftermath of violence. A significant component of the plot emphasizes the roles of heads of state who are the beneficiaries of conflicts waged over the control of diamond mines. Trauma’s pathology may be evident in its disruptive restructuring of experience; the film’s structuring of the plot shifts the blame for the “disorder” of traumatic wars unto government ministers and foreign diamond merchants. L’oeil du cyclone won the Bronze Stallion at FESPACO in 2015. Maimouna N’Diaye won the festival award for Best Actress, and Fargass Assand.

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