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La Chapelle, un film de Jean-Michel Tchissoukou
Cinema
Work

2 min

La Chapelle, a film by Jean-Michel Tchissoukou restored by the Cinémathèque Afrique

As director of La Chapelle, Jean-Michel Tchissoukou was responsible for one of the first Congolese films to be made after independence, in which he depicts colonial Africa with humour and intelligence. The film, unseen for many years, has now been restored with the help of the Institut français' Cinémathèque Afrique and will have its premiere at the Institut français de Brazzaville on 12 December 2023. 

© DR
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A rare filmmaker

Born in 1942 in Pointe-Noire, Congo, Jean-Michel Tchissoukou was one of the first Congolese filmmakers to emerge after independence. He first studied cinema in Paris, at the National Audiovisual Institute (INA) and at the Office of Radio Cooperation (OCORA). On his return to the Congo, he worked for the national television station for ten years. In 1970, he directed his first medium-length film, Illusions, in which he tells of the adventures of a farmer looking to join his brother in Brazzaville. He released his first feature film, La Chapelle, in 1979, before making a second film, M'Pongo, in 1982. It is an evocation of the generational conflict and cultural changes in the Congo between 1930 and 1960. Jean-Michel Tchissoukou died in 1997 in Brazzaville. 

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A meticulous political film

In La Chapelle, a Catholic evangelist mission settles in a Congolese village in the middle of the 1930s. However, construction of the chapel is struggling to progress in the face of reluctant inhabitants who are respectful of their traditions. While the village priest is surrounded by the authorities, the village leader and the sacristan, the work continues to go nowhere. The characters then start to develop a political game, proving to be both a help and a hindrance to the priest. 

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A testimonial that speaks for itself

In one of the first Congolese films made after independence, Jean-Michel Tchissoukou seeks to describe the tensions that exist between traditional African religions and the Catholic Church in the Congo with humour and accuracy. The filmmaker delivers a cultural shock, a painting of colonial Africa that denounces servitude and continues to impose itself today as a brilliant testimony to a bygone era. Jean-Michel Tchissoukou succeeds in bringing humour to a film that also invites reflection on conflicts and repressive acts. 

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A preview of the restoration

La Chapelle was the first production by the Gabonese National Film Office, and the film was a great success when it was released. It won the Authenticity Award at the Ouagadougou Pan-African Film and Television Festival (FESPACO) in Burkina Faso in 1981. La Chapelle has been restored by the Institut français' Cinémathèque Afrique and will be presented for the first time at the Institut français of Brazzaville on 12 December.