Sleeping Sickness

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Baffling, mysterious, inexplicable, mesmerizing: Ulrich Khler's Cameroon-set feature invites all sorts of tersely direct descriptions for the scalpel-precise way it draws us into its bifurcated story. The first half focuses on a white man abroad: Ebbo (Pierre Bokma) is a physician, probably German, who's spent so much time in Africa studying the eponymous disease that he's been shorn of a cultural identity. In part two, black French doctor Alex (Jean-Christophe Folly)—who's never been to his ancestral continent—checks on the progress of the sleeping sickness program and finds Ebbo in an even more frazzled state. Khler doesn't hand-hold the audience: Details about the characters (and even how much time has passed between scenes) emerge casually and cryptically so that we are constantly playing mental catch-up. But the journey is well-worth it, and the film's heart of darkness finale is awe-inspiring.—KU

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New York Film Festival 2011

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