Aristole's Plot: Lampooning Cinema and Identity
Perhaps the central narrator of Aristotle's Plot felt himself constrained by the role of a modern-day griot imposed upon him by a populace that is both desparate for and hostile toward his message. It is clear from the outset that Bekolo-as-narrator works in uneasy tandem with the society that forms the context of his work. He describes himself as a `cineaste' and provokes derision among others who find him either pretentious or dangerous. He is a potential subversive; as his audience is often comprised of gangsters, he too must find an affinity in challenging the status quo. In fact, Aristotle's Plot revolves around the question of identity. Like another film of the same period, Afrique, je te Plumerai, the narrator is bound upon a personal, nearly spiritual journey of discovery. Unlike Jean-Marie Teno's documentary, however, this movement toward enlightenment is a product of deep cynicism and skepticism. As if in response to the largely unsought pressures, or contradictory impulses the audience brings to bear, the narrator depicts with a sardonic eye the overturning of established cultural mores, white and otherwise. Every convention of cinema itself is lampooned; likewise the lifestyles and beliefs of the participants are mocked and exposed as caricatures. The great Aristotle, foundation of all thought Western, acts in a manner similar to that of Virgil, leading the bewildered Dante -- but in leading astray he speaks directly to the gulf between First and Third Cinema. The traditional narrative, or tragedy al a Aristotle, serves as a point of departure for the satire. Congruities of plot are pursued haphazardly, and abandoned at will so that the idea of suspension of disbelief is itself isolated, illuminated, and ultimately questioned.
Aristotle's Plot may best be considered in the light of what it does not say, for it uses its farcical plot as a vehicle to expose assumptions made by its audiences. Thematically, it presents a series of challenges to the viewer that are more or less effective depending on one's ability to recognize each vignette in relation to real life. The case is rare in which an African filmmaker does not work with at least the intention of speaking to his African audience while trying to mitigate external influences that may `whiten' the message. Having said that, this decade has witnessed new approaches to the concept of cinema. The film is a fine example of the self-reflective quality characteristic of these new films, for one becomes aware quickly that many of its exaggerations serve the dual purpose of satirizing Western pop culture, or Hollywood itself, while pointing out to the African audience the folly of emulation of such facile, second-hand iconery. A shift is evident from the more strident, militant ideology of earlier films; here the viewer sees the emptiness of the cult of stardom in its own right, not merely within the context of its ruthless importation to the African continent. The critique is more broad and penetrating by virtue of its transcendence of purely racial or neocolonial issues. Modernity as defined by the West is depicted in all its ridiculous glory. The classic "Who's on First?" comedy sketch of Abbott and Costello is recreated in verbal repartee over the difference between a cineaste and cinema. The gangsters angrily quiet the audience as the Hollywood first-run begins; the picture begins with a burst of gunfire that does not end. The police are `Keystone Kop' characters, politically subversive were they not so obviously making fun of British, Sanders of the River types. The Ministry of Culture is a train station, an image so replete with symbol that the viewer virtually stumbles over it. The gangsters identify themselves as action heroes. Aristotle viewed tragedy as an invocation of fear and pity to produce catharsis, but the new Third Cinema proves that humor and identification can also bring release. Its threatening implications are carefully and deliberately wrapped in the guise of unreality. The film ends where it began, and then the players walk away from the camera.