Film & TV

NYFF: ‘Sleeping Sickness’ is a Haunting Tale

Film & TV

NYFF: ‘Sleeping Sickness’ is a Haunting Tale

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Ulrich Köhler’s Sleeping Sickness, a haunting exploration of Europe’s relationship to post-colonial Africa, follows German Dr. Ebbo Velten (Pierre Bokma) as he prepares to hand over the African trypanosomiasis research program he and his wife have run for the past two decades. The film then skips three years when Dr. Alex Nzila (Jean-Christophe Folly), a World Health Organization inspector, arrives in Cameroon for the first time to review the validity of Velten’s practice. Sleeping Sickness employs an elliptical structure, through which Köhler provides a haunting look at neo-colonialism, European do-gooders, and crushed ideals. Köhler, who won the Silver Bear Award for Best Director at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival last February, was raised in the Congo by parents who ran a medical program, and it shows: although it’s a cautionary tale about colonization, it’s also a moody, deeply personal meditation on fitting in.