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L’hypothèse du Mokélé-Mbembé

North American Premiere
  • France
  • 2011
  • 78 mins
  • Video
  • French
Official Selection, International Film Festival Rotterdam 2012

The African rainforest hides many mysteries. One of them surrounds an immense aquatic creature that makes its home somewhere in the wild backwoods of Cameroon. It is a mythic beast, possibly a living fossil from prehistoric times. The indigenous people of the region call it Mokélé-Mbembé. Accounts of those who claim to have seen it are widely varied and often contradictory. Some claim is resembles a sauropod, others that it can take any physical form it wishes. To date, no concrete evidence of its existence has come to light. The many exploratory missions to find the creature have come back empty-handed or at best with highly unconvincing audio-visual documentation. Mokélé-Mbembé is very real, however. Of this, the locals are certain. It’s now the turn of Frenchman Michel Ballot to seek out the beast, plunging deep into the dangerous jungle where he hopes to reveal the truth about Mokélé-Mbembé.

Ballot’s quest has now consumed him for over a decade, during which he has scoured every corner of the Sangha River and it surroundings, as well as interacting with inhabitants of the area. Visual artist and filmmaker Marie Voignier accompanied Ballot on two expeditions in 2010, the second of which being the basis of her documentary. Rather than seek to confirm or deny the legend of Mokélé-Mbembé, Voignier opts for discretion, taking no side in the debate. Never interfering, she silently follows Ballot’s exotic journey and draws us into a reality so unlike our own, one both fascinating and unsettling. With a poetic touch, the film captures the essence of what’s truly another world, a parallel universe to our Western society where daily life is invested with malicious spirits and marvelous beasts. It divides its attention between those who live there, the pygmies convinced they’ve witnessed the impossible, and Ballot, the outsider who observes them — the film is as much an anything a passionate portrait of an intrepid explorer one would only think to find in an old adventure novel. By turns amusing and disturbing, L’HYPOTHÈSE DU MOKÉLÉ-MBEMBÉ is a sly invitation to question one’s own convictions, to consider that there might be something uncanny concealed in the shadows. A quiet meditation on the phenomenon of belief, the film may well convince you that monsters exist — all around us.

— Simon Laperrière