Chomet’s film: Illusionist or hypnotist?

MANCHESTER Mouth’s movie magician Tony Boffey explains why Sylvain Chomet’s new animated film ‘The Illusionist’ may not enchant audiences.

Chomet’s new stunningly hand-drawn animated film is possibly not as immediately satisfying as his previous effort, the madcap Belleville Rendevous.

In that film you were distracted from the fact that there was a lack of emotional punch by the wildly over the top globetrotting Tour De France/mafia infused plot, terrific set pieces, hilariously eccentric character designs and delightful visual gags in every frame. The Illusionist moves at a different pace altogether.

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Prof shines light on Africa’s darkest hour

A UNIVERSITY of Manchester professor has written a  book which throws new light on one of colonial Africa’s darkest hours.

‘The Killer Trail’ reveals casual attitudes to extreme violence and the use of psychology to cover up and excuse deliberate brutality.

According to Professor Bertrand Taithe, the 1898 French Government implicitly gave two junior officers carte blanche to crush the resistance of local people by using extreme violence.

During the Voulet-Chanoine mission, thousands of people were killed, leaving a trail of destruction and slaughter in its wake.

The unimaginable horrors still haunt  the region, blighted by the killing of children, women, systematic destruction and looting between 1898 and 99.

But according to the historian, the West still needs to learn lessons from the massacres perpetrated by the French colonialist soldiers, which were the result he said, of ruthless cost cutting.

A war fought on the cheap, he argues, risks the deterioration of standards and the use of unacceptable violence.

Professor Taithe said: “The Voulet-Chanoine mission was sent to Central Africa to unify French territories – but by any means necessary.

“And it’s clear the horrific events of 1898 were not the consequences of a few soldiers who went astray or became insane – which is how the French Government and press described it – but a calculated effort to pacify the population cheaply.

“When the killers were exposed, the authorities covered up their actions by calling them ‘monsters’ and ‘psychologically damaged’.

“But there was no fundamental exposition of how such inhumanity could come about and therefore nothing really changed.”

The mission left Dakar, Senegal in 1898 for the centre of Africa and the region of Lake Chad to establish effective borders between the French and British empires while ‘pacifying’ the ‘belligerent’ people who lived there.

Their journey eerily foretells Conrad’s classic book ‘The Heart of Darkness’ and the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola film ‘Apocalypse Now’.

Though it advanced slowly, the Voulet-Chanoine Mission was in the process of accomplishing its goals when stories of terrible outrages reached Paris in 1899 and led to a public uproar. A second mission was dispatched to investigate.

Eventually, on 14 July 1899, the two missions met and confronted each other: Voulet and Chanoine allegedly declared their independence from France only to be themselves murdered by the African soldiers under their command in a violent mutiny.

Scholars shed light on humanity’s dark side

Professor Jacques Sémelin

IN THE KNOW: Professor Jacques Sémelin is an internationally renowned expert on genocide

HISTORICAL incidents of mass violence are being discussed at the University of Manchester.

Jacques Sémelin, an internationally renowned expert on genocide based at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, will be speaking about his work at the university (UoM) on Thursday 12 November 2009.

The professor leads a team dedicated to producing a reliable record of both well-documented and little remembered 20th century massacres.

Since its inception, The Encyclopaedia of Mass Violence website has published dozens of peer reviewed articles detailing some of humanity’s darkest episodes.

The site is freely available to the public and aims to bolster efforts in different parts of the world to reduce the threat of future disasters by learning from the past.

Entries include notorious acts of violence in the Ottoman Empire, Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, as well as the genocides of Rwanda and Kampuchea.

Less well known examples including the horrors endured by the people of Chad, Poland and Tasmania.

The website,, took four years to construct, and aims to be the world’s only comprehensive database of its kind.

Submissions come from a range of sources including historians, demographers, sociologists, anthropologists, and NGO staff, but are subject to the same academic criteria.

Articles are in French and English, but will also be translated into the languages of the countries where the massacres happened.

Dr Jean Marc Dreyfus

HISTORY: Dr Dreyfus believes that we need to understand these acts to build peace

Holocaust historian Dr Jean Marc Dreyfus, from UoM, is on the project steering committee and organised Professor Sémelin’s visit to Manchester.

He said: “The knowledge produced by this team of scholars is essential to understanding what – if anything – is common to these appalling acts of extreme violence which have blighted the 20th century.

“If we are to build peace then we need an understanding of the legacy of these acts. We need to investigate the darker side of peace.

“The site is going from strength to strength and has already been visited by thousands of people from 100 countries.

“It is valuable not only to scholars, but also to the NGO community, international legal experts, policy makers and journalists.”

He added: “Today’s scholars have a responsibility to initiate and build on this important work.

“The sight is impartial and does not ally itself to any political or ideological purposes, just scholarship.

“Professor Sémelin has made one of the most important contributions to the study of genocide, so we’re privileged to hear him speak.”