Starring: Marc Zinga, Aïssa Maïga, Bayron Lebli
Director: Julien Rambaldi
Running Time: 96 mins
The African Doctor (Bienvenue à Marly-Gomont) is a French film about a Congolese doctor who moves his family to a small town in northern France, and despite struggling to integrate at first, soon becomes one of the town’s most respected citizens.
Race relations in the mid-20th Century have worked as subject matter in countless films, but it’s rare that one that touches on the topic manages to provide such pleasant and heartwarming drama, as well as a serious and engaging account of racism. With heartfelt writing, likable leads and even the odd dose of humour, The African Doctor is a surprisingly delightful watch, and one that doesn’t cheapen its subject matter in ways that others have been criticised for.
First off, The African Doctor tells a story that’s far from original, and with its rags-to-riches story along with a light-hearted brand of humour, it can seem a bit cheesy at times. Now, while it doesn’t tell the story of a world-changing moment in race relations, you’d think that a cheesier approach to a story centred around racism would cheapen the main theme.
However, the brilliant thing about The African Doctor is that it’s a wonderfully genuine and heartfelt movie. Telling the true story of a doctor from what was then Zaire who takes up a job in rural northern France, the film centres on a hard-working, kind-hearted young family as they try earnestly to settle into their local community.
And that’s actually where The African Doctor proves to be so memorable. Its core focus on racism is far from the most powerful or impressive, but its more down-to-earth tale of newcomers to a small community is what really works, and with likable, intelligent and earnest leads, it’s impossible not to find their attempts to integrate very endearing.
Its presentation of institutionalised, everyday racism doesn’t get under your skin as much as it really should, but the part of the film that really touched me was the attitude of the Congolese family in facing up to it.
The film doesn’t take an aggressive, modern approach to its attack on racism, and in similar fashion to the likes of Green Book, it’s a more traditional, but far more mellow take on the subject matter. It may not be the rallying cry that often wins plaudits nowadays, but it makes for an enjoyable and genuinely delightful watch, and that’s why I’m giving The African Doctor a 7.6 overall.