Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Review: ‘Murder in Paris’: Who killed Dulcie September?

Even for a country in the throes of a violent struggle for democracy, the 1988 murder of Dulcie September, an activist and anti-apartheid educator, was shocking. September, at the time the representative of the ANC in France, Luxembourg and Switzerland, was killed outside the ANC offices in Paris when five bullets were fired at point blank range from a .22-calibre pistol. She was 52 years old. The identity of her killer has never been revealed despite several investigations.

Murder in Paris, the new documentary by Enver Samuel revisits this cold case, diving deep into several frustrating clues that have been thrown up since September’s death 33 years ago. None of these leads — apartheid government involvement, French weapons industry — have led to a proper conclusion of the September affair and Murder in Paris, although in itself a terrific piece of cinematic investigative journalism, does not solve the mystery of September’s death. 

What the film does is bring renewed attention to the facts of the case, while putting forward and interrogating a few of these leads, some of which are hidden in plain sight. Samuel also reminds audiences of who September was, where she came from and why her story matters in the larger scheme. He launches into September’s story through the decades-long attempts at cracking the case by investigative journalist and author, Evelyn Groenink.

Samuel journeys across continents to speak with a cross section of the people who knew September best; friends, family and comrades, as well as those who were around during her final hours. Using interviews and archival footage, Samuel’s film paints a fascinating portrait of a patriot and dogged freedom fighter committed to the democratic ideals which she sadly did not live to enjoy in her home country. 

In some way, Murder in Paris serves as a companion piece to Samuel’s earlier documentary films, Indians Can’t Fly and Someone to Blame, both about the life and circumstances surrounding the brutal murder of Ahmed Timol in 1972. The young activist and teacher fell to his death at the hands of the police at the John Vorster Police Station in downtown Johannesburg. His death was initially framed by the police as a suicide. 

With these films, Samuel who had only a passing familiarity with September’s story before he was approached by her family members, continues to reframe the legacies of unsung heroes and heroines of the apartheid struggle who paid the ultimate price. 

Murder in Paris is a thrilling, fast-paced, if densely structured historic intervention that rewrites Dulcie September into the mainstream discussion while reclaiming her legacy from the confines of “forgotten apartheid hero”. Given their strictures, documentaries can only do so much, but this one does quite a lot.

This review emanates from the Talent Press, an initiative of Talents Durban, presented by the Durban FilmMart Institute.

Vote for an informed choice

We’re dropping the paywall this week so that everyone can access all our stories for free, and get the information they need in the run up to the local government elections. To follow the news, sign up to our daily elections newsletter for the latest updates and analysis.

If our coverage helps inform your decision, cast your vote for an informed public and join our subscriber community. Right now, a full year’s access is just R510, half the usual cost. Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.

Wilfred Okiche
Wilfred Okiche is a Nigerian film critic based in Lagos. He has mentored film critics at the Durban International Film Festival.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Latest stories

Cliff and Steenhuisen are wrong. Here’s why race matters in...

Both the podcast host and the leader of the Democratic Alliance believe in a toothless non-racialism that ignores the historical foundation of racism and the pain it inflicts in the present

Mission implausible for the DA’s man in Nkandla

Malibongwe Dubazane is contesting all 14 of the IFP-run Nkandla local municipality’s wards

Andries Tatane’s spirit will drive fight against ANC in Ficksburg

The nascent Setsoto Service Delivery Forum is confident it can remove the ‘failing ANC’ in the chronically mismanaged Free State municipality

Paddy Harper: On gleeful politicians and headless chickens

Paddy Harper doesn’t know who to vote for yet, since the Dagga Party isn’t contesting his ward, but right now what to order for lunch is a more pressing concern
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×