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95 minutes, 1996, Cameroon
Producer/Director: Jean-Marie Teno
in French with English subtitles

Clando wrestles with a dilemma facing more and more educated Africans: whether to work to change the autocratic regimes at home or seek their fortunes abroad.

Clando is a call to action from one African to his fellow Africans - a heart-felt conversation we are privileged to overhear. Teno writes: "A majority of Africans are waiting, waiting for change to happen, a passivity inherited from 400 years of oppression, where things can only go from bad to worse."

Clando begins in medias res: a chaotic, disorienting, urban present where people are so busy surviving they don't have the time to confront the underlying causes of their desperation. The central character, Sobgui, a former computer programmer, has, for reasons not yet clear, been reduced to driving a "clando" or gypsy cab through Douala's anarchic streets. He is clandestine, not just because his cab is unlicensed, but because he is hiding from his own past. When a radical political group involves him in the revenge slaying of an informer, Sobgui knows it is definitely time to get out of Douala. A wealthy elder from his village provides the chance when he asks Sobgui to go to Germany to buy more cars - and to try to locate his long-lost, prodigal son, Rigoberto.

In a series of flashbacks after he arrives in Germany, we discover that Sobgui allowed a group of pro-democracy students to use his office to duplicate an anti-government flyer. He had, however, been under surveillance and is immediately abducted by the political police and brutally tortured. Sobgui is dumped in a civil jail, which a fellow prisoner sardonically observes must be "heaven" - since the nation beyond its wall is a prison and a hell. One day, without explanation, the political police whisk a terrified Sobgui away, drop him on a busy street corner and tell him not to move until they return. As the hours pass, he realizes that they aren't coming back but that he remains thier prisoner - only now his cell is all of Cameroon.

Director Jean-Marie Teno, however, suggests alternatives to Sobgui's state of powerless isolation. The informal economy in which Sobgui works, "helping his brothers out in the sun to get home," provides basic services unavailable from the government-controlled sector. Both in Douala and Cologne the members of Sobgui's clan have set up tontines, "credit unions," which support their members' entrepreneurial ventures. Even in the jail, captives and captors learn to share what they have.

In Cologne, Sobgui manages to track down his sponsor's son whose fate provides a cautionary tale for Sobgui as well. A once prosperous businessman, Rigoberto has been reduced to a penniless drunk. Sobgui tries to encourage him to return to Cameroon by telling him a parable about a hunter from a drought-stricken village who goes into the forest to find food for his family. After two weeks he has still shot no game and is so ashamed he wanders off into the forest rather than return empty-handed. But the villagers send out a search party and convince him to assume his hereditary role as chief.

Sobgui discovers another reason to return, ironically, through an affair he has with a young German human rights activist, Irène. She is impatient with the Cameroonian emigrant community's complacent waiting for change to happen at home. She tells Sobgui that if you wait to change society, society will change you first. Sobgui realizes that since his imprisonment he has felt immobilized by the "law of series:" you can know how a sequence of actions begins, but never how it will end. Sobgui has, for example, been haunted by a terrifying dream. He and some other prisoners are riding shackled in a police van driven by a psychopath. One of the prisoners has a gun but the dream always ends in indecision: should he shoot the driver, risking death in a crash, or do nothing and suffer a slow death in captivity? "That metaphoric gun," director Teno comments, "is in the hands of every African."

In a sense, Sobgui completes his dream when he tells Irène that he has decided to return to Cameroon. Irène's politics demand no less; it has nothing to do with their personal affection or her nationality. For the first time, he addresses her as "comrade," and she replies, "we have to wait till you've earned that name." Sobgui answers: "I'm tired of waiting."

Read the filmmakers thoughts on the current state of African Cinema in Imagining Alternatives: African Cinema in the New Century by Jean-Marie Teno
"One hears the voice of Africa expressing itself in the first person and taking the risk of its subjectivity, without using the excuse of poverty or relying on folklorism. This is, above all, very courageous ."
"The first feature film confronting the reality of the movement for democratization in francophone Africa has a rare quality among African films in that it entirely accomplishes its ambitions."
Le Monde
"Clando is a work of art on the level of artistry with Satyagit Ray's investigations of India...Acting doesn't get any better than this."
Philadelphia Forum
"Clando dramatizes how global forces can reach right into a man's psyche. Teno's first feature film confirms his position as one of African cinema's most exciting directors."
Cameron Bailey, Toronto International Film Festival


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