DIE REVOLUTION FRISST IHRE KINDER

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by Jan-Christoph Gockel

grade: 8

Die Revolution frisst ihre Kinder tells us an important chapter in the history of Burkina Faso in the unusual form of the mockumentary, for a highly complex and layered work in which art and politics are constantly intertwined, inevitably merging with each other, without leaving the audience time to realise where the mise-en-scene ends and reality begins.

Fiction or reality?

Film and theatre director Jan-Christoph Gockel witnessed, in 2014, the popular uprising in Burkina Faso, during which the dictator Blaise Compaoré, who came to power in 1987 and who, in turn, had been behind the assassination of then President Thomas Sankara, was ousted. This experience gave rise firstly to the play Die Revolution frisst ihre Kinder (“the revolution eats its own children”) and, later, to the feature film of the same name, made in 2019 and which was supposed to be part of the selection of the Diagonale 2020, but which, following the cancellation of the festival, was included within the programme Diagonale 2020 – The Unfinished.

Set precisely in the weeks leading up to the revolution, Die Revolution frisst ihre Kinder immediately presents itself as an atypical and quite unique film. On this occasion, then, we see the young theatre director Julia Gräfner travelling with her ensemble from the Schauspielhaus Graz to Burkina Faso – and specifically to Ouagadougou – in order to perform Georg Büchner’s Danton’s Death with her actors and colourful puppets. With this project of hers, the director would like to present the theatre to the population as a new social medium, as well as a powerful means of political renewal. However, things soon take a different turn: one of the puppeteers decides to commission some local artisans to build the puppet of Thomas Sankara and, by going around the streets of the city with this puppet, awakens in the population old feelings and desires to change things.

And so, Die Revolution frisst ihre Kinder tells us an important chapter in the history of Burkina Faso in the unusual form of a mockumentary, for a very complex and layered work in which art and politics are constantly intertwined, inevitably merging with each other, without leaving the audience time to realise where the mise en scène ends and reality begins. Director Julia Gräfner is convinced that she, with her puppets and her revolutionary ideas regarding theatre, has in some way contributed to the revolution. And if she proves to be more and more inclined to grotesque delusions of grandeur, her entire ensemble seems to no longer want to be involved in her projects, which would only endanger everyone’s lives.

Reality and fiction, satire and documentary. Theatre, meta-theatre and cinema. Die Revolution frisst ihre Kinder is a completely innovative film, the like of which is rarely seen in Austrian cinema. And if, on the one hand, it seems somewhat ambitious, on the other hand, the love for a people that has had to suffer too much over the past decades stands out, as well as a real self-denial towards theatre and art in general, true in their own way ‘revolutionary’ instruments, often the only means with which one can make one’s voice heard.

And so this interesting film by Gockel turns out to be much more complex and layered than it might initially have seemed. All for a story that unfolds on two (not too) distinct levels: on the one hand, in fact, we have a people eager to react and have their say, and on the other we have Julia and her crew, they too, in their own small way, revolutionaries, they too keepers of an important historical memory. Particularly interesting in this regard is the figure of Julia (played by the extraordinary Julia Gräfner), who often changes her mood from one scene to the next, presenting herself now as an inspired reformer, now as a real dictator, so narcissistic that she is unable to see how things really are, a European who, in her own way, has managed to start an important revolution on the other side of the world.

And such ambiguity pervades the whole Die Revolution frisst ihre Kinder, where a skilful screenplay manages perfectly to handle all the many elements brought into play, confusing the audience at just the right point and creating the right mixture of fiction and reality, past and present. The story of a people who never really gave up. And which, perhaps, art, with its saving power, has somehow managed to reawaken.

Original title: Die Revolution frisst ihre Kinder
Directed by: Jan-Christoph Gockel
Country/year: Austria, Burkina Faso / 2019
Running time: 75’
Genre: mockumentary
Screenplay: Jan-Christoph Gockel
Cinematography: Eike Zuleeg
Produced by: Schauspielhaus Graz

Info: the page of Die Revolution frisst ohre Kinder on the website of the Diagonale; the page of Die Revolution frisst ihre Kinder on iMDb