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Two movies contrast African-European life

Mahamet Saleh-Haroun's 2008 "Sex, Okra and Salted Butter," tackles the alienation many African immigrants experience in Europe.

`Glorious Exit' records the experiences of Swiss-born Jarreth Merz in Nigeria.
Two movies contrast African-European life


The differences between Africa and Europe extend far beyond their geographical distance from each other. The fabric of each continent's social and cultural norms is woven by unique outlooks on everything from the role of women to how best to plan a parent's funeral.

Chadian director Mahamet Saleh-Haroun's 2008 "Sex, Okra and Salted Butter," tackles the alienation many African immigrants experience in Europe in a surprisingly humorous examination of one family's devastating migration to France from Mali.

Though Malik Diakité and his wife Hortense dreamt of a better life in Paris, things quickly fall apart when soon after arriving she leaves her traditional husband and their two young sons for a French patient she meets at her hospital job.

Meanwhile, their older son, Dani, has assumed European ways, choosing to live apart from the family, and declaring his homosexuality, much to the anguish of the family patriarch.

African ideals are not completely abandoned however. Dani finds Amina, a pregnant Guinean girl to help run his father's home in Hortense's absence. However Malik soon discovers that, despite her grandiose claims, the newly-adopted "daughter" who he erroneously believes is Dani's girlfriend, can't even make traditional okra sauce.

The irony of this misplaced life is codified by Malik's longing for the healing powers of African shea butter, which when not available, he substitutes with European salted butter.

The opposite journey - from Europe to Africa - is examined in Kevin Merz's documentary "Glorious Exit." The film records the experiences of his mixed race brother, Jarreth Merz who is the product of a union between a Nigerian chieftain and his Swiss mother. Jarrett was raised in Switzerland with Kevin, who does not share the same ethnic mix.

While he is knowledgeable about his dual heritage, Jarreth has never had any contact with his Nigerian family. His father returned to his country after schooling in Europe, opening a hospital and starting a family in Enugu in Nigeria's Igboland.

However, on his death, the Los Angeles-based actor, who is the eldest son, is expected to preside over the complex (and costly) funeral rituals that are not only extensive, but totally foreign to him. Forced to go to Enugu, where he finds the former hospital in total abandonment and serving as the family home, Jarreth must make decisions within a cultural framework for which he has no point of reference.

Guidance from uncles and other relatives, who must leave the work to him, results in frustrations, and exorbitant expenditures punctuated by cultural naivety and gaffs. But morally Jarreth feels that he should, at very least, fulfill his responsibilities as the first-born.

The Merz brothers' ability to be insiders on this story allows the viewer to intimately connect with Jarreth's Nigerian family while empathizing with his seemingly impossible dilemma. In the end, blood does prove to be thicker than water, and true bonds are established between Jarreth and the family before the lengthy funeral ends with his father's burial in an unfinished and abandoned family complex.

"Glorious Exit," like "Sex, Okra and Salted Butter," demonstrates that though the gulf between Europe and Africa is wide, humanity can triumph over major differences and effectively build bridges between two divergent cultures.

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