At first glance, Divine carcasse (1998) is the kind of movie I was wary of encountering from this list: something between a student film and a middling Frontline documentary, with a simplistic narrative, stock music and no clear sense of aesthetics. But Belgian filmmaker and writer Dominique Loreau captures something thoughtful here, and shows at least the intentions of “slow cinema” even if she doesn't have the equipment or technical sophistication to fully pull it off.
Part documentary, part fiction, Divine carcasse tells the story of a vintage Peugeot automobile, which is imported into Benin by a nostalgic European expatriate. When the car proves unreliable — and possibly cursed by local superstitions — the man gives the car to a Beninese worker, who considers it his key to a better life. When the car breaks down yet again, and is eventually abandoned, a Beninese artist deconstructs the car and uses its materials to construct a folk artifact.
At a short 60 minutes, Divine carcasse moves at a (sometimes too) leisurely pace, with Loreau quietly taking in the different reactions to and purposing of the car, from envy and excitement, to consternation and disregard. The vehicle's transformation from something of promise, to disappointment, and ultimately divine is always low-key interesting, even when the camera lingers too long on some moments. There’s maybe a little too much invested in the obvious juxtaposition of the modern and the primitive, and the brief staged portions of the narrative are a bit clunky, but Loreau’s approach is so unobtrusive that the facile messaging never feels too explicit. It's a minor work, but not an offensive one, and the rare look at Beninese culture is welcome.
In what is sure to be a recurring refrain while exploring Cinemascapist's list of "The Best African Movies, from All 54 Countries," the quality of the available copy of Divine carcasse (1998) is terrible. It may well be a more visually accomplished movie than I was able to discern, but which has since been diluted by low quality format transfers.
Divine carcasse (1998) squeaks into the top half of my Flickchart, with a rank of #2262 (52.91%), which means that my streak through Andy Nelson's list of Cinemascapist's "The Best African Movies, From All 54 African Countries" continues to a third film, N!AI, THE STORY OF A !KUNG WOMAN (1980), a documentary filmed in Botswana by noted anthropologist John Marshall in collaboration with Adrienne Miesmer.