The French Film ‘The African Doctor’ is a Satire of Cultural Acceptance
by Nile Fortner
The French film originally titled, Bienvenue à Marly-Gomont (Welcome to Marly Gomont) a.k.a. The African Doctor, tells the true story of Seyolo Zantoko, a French doctor, who struggles to serve as a doctor in a small French village and obtain French nationality in order to expose his family to a wider world. The comedy-drama film is based on the real-life father of French musician Kamini Zantoko, who is also one of the co-writers, and the movie is directed by Julien Rambaldi.
The movie starts out with our main character Seyolo, who graduates from a French medical school. He is offered a job in his homeland of Zaire/Congo working for a corrupt government official. Despite the money and the perks attached to this position, Seylo decides to go to a small French village which has been seeking a doctor for its citizens for years. He decides to take this job in the hopes that it will allow him to also become a French citizen. From there, Seylo and his family are given the fish out of water story treatment. The family deals with many issues when trying to integrate themselves into the village. Not only are they battling against prejudice people, but they deal with their own culture shock, and adaptability to an entirely new way of life.
Even though the film is set in the 1970’s and deals heavily with race issues, The African Doctor is labeled more of a comedy. The issue of race is a heavy issue in our culture, but I just love how this film uses comedy not just to say something about our characters, but displays humor with the challenges Seyolo and his family go through. It uses comedy so well in order to sympathize with our main characters and the comedy is used for some great character development that viewers will feel a connection and relate to Seyolo.
Despite all the comedic struggles Seyolo goes through, he maintains a positive outlook on everything, and encourages his struggling wife and kids without displaying his own inner agitation when things appear to be down in the dumps. The film has a great balance between comedy and drama, allowing viewers to understand the conflict between Seyolo and his wife Anne as they adjust to the consequences of his decision for their family. This provides a realistic and relatable view many people face, yet our characters provide an inside look for some viewers, and are examples of how anyone can work through difficult times. Anne is a great support despite the fact that she does not approve of their move and throughout the film, she mentions how much better it would be to live in Paris.
Seyolo’s daughter, Sivi, is a soccer prodigy, but isn’t allowed to play on her school’s team because she’s a girl and because her father believes the sport is a waste of time. Young Kamini is a smart well-behaved boy who is forced to face racism for the first time at his new school. Yet Seyolo is impervious to their struggles at first. Unfortunately, since this is a French film, I am not familiar with any of the actors, but I do know that they were all believable, relatable, and likable in portraying their journey, not just for the Zantoko family, but also that of the townspeople who must face their own flaws.
Seyolo’s character and even his comedic moments are used as a mirror to reflect each person he encounters in this small village, and reflecting back what is in their hearts. The actress who plays Anne Zantoko is a great blend of spirit, style, and a stellar personality that viewers will fall in love with. Similarly, the children also do a great job portraying the difficulties of fitting in at a school where they are mocked and bullied for the color of their skin, while also struggling to adapt to their father’s expectations at home.
Most people know of the American issues and history during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The African Doctor provides a look that I personally didn’t heavily consider before seeing this film and that’s how other countries viewed racism and cultural differences during this era. I’m not sure if this film accurately displays the French attitude towards race as the setting is in a quiet rural village which had not been exposed much to outsiders and diversity. France may have viewed equal rights more in the bigger cities, where it is a little more common to see other cultures and diversity amongst the people who live there. Seyolo’s wife’s family shows up a couple of times in the film, driving in from their home in Brussels. Therefore, the film states that their family is a quite international, well-traveled, and one with exposure to other cultures other than their own people. Seyolo’s in-laws actually provide some of the funniest moments in the film; they are loud, rowdy, and over-the-top. They challenge Seyolo not to lose his cultural identity yet while trying to mix-and-mingle with a new one. The in-laws help with not just a few comedic moments, but using comedic moments to help us understand and appreciate our family history even at times when we may not want to fully acknowledge it.
The African Doctor is a very funny film that often puts a humorous spin on the absurdity of ignorance and culture shock on display. The film is a great reminder of the social impact that one person can have when they live a life of kindness, humbleness, and acceptance. A powerful true story that is currently available for viewing with English subtitles on Netflix.
I am giving The African Doctor a 5 out of 5 Hairpieces!