Rafiki Fariala, Central African Republic | France | Democratic Republic of the Congo | Saudi Arabia 2022
It is difficult to get ahead in the Central African Republic (CAR). Director Rafiki Fariala takes to his camera to highlight the lives of his friends Nestor, Aaron, and Benjamin as they work to complete their degrees in economics at the University of Bangui. Corruption, sexual and educational misconduct, and sub-par living conditions are the reality at the university. Nestor is particularly highlighted as a deeply intellectually curious student, but who, out of the four friends, is the only one who fails his final exams. Is this due to his own failings, or is it, perhaps because he is popular with the ladies? It is stated by one student that the general opinion of the professors is that “…the female students are for us, go and get your girlfriends from high school.”
While WE STUDENTS! is certainly a fascinating look at the inner lives of young, educated men in the CAR, it struggles with a limited scope. As Fariala is filming his friends and is inherently a part of the group, he does not have any emotional or intellectual distance to do much more than merely document lives. A couple of interviews with women show that as much as the men struggle to get along, the women have also to deal with extreme sexual harassment from professors and students. Unfortunately, this is only briefly touched upon. Meanwhile, the young men are also sexually active, and the conversation of forced abortion is brought up, and Aaron is even accused of raping his underage girlfriend by her aunt. Both Aaron and his girlfriend deny the charge, and the two must later raise twin daughters. But he is still beholden to pay a compensation to her family for the rape—one goat and six chickens. The realities of what this means for the women in their lives is never focused on. Even without the focus of Fariala’s lens, it becomes clear that to be a woman in the CAR is a difficult life. Despite all of this, the depictions of the lives of his friends still are sympathetic which is difficult to swallow from an American perspective.
Despite its flaws, it is great to once again see a film coming out of the Central African Republic. The last film from the country to be highlighted at a major film festival was LE SILENCE DE LA FORÊT (THE SILENCE OF THE FOREST) in 2003. Here is hoping that we see more from Rafiki Fariala in the future, as there is so much that can be shared about the culture and political reality of the CAR; it is a welcome inclusion to the Berlinale lineup.