The capital city of the Congo, Kinshasa, is fraught with conflict and disillusion in the aftermath of the civil wars. But while crime and uncertainty permeate the streets, many citizens just try to get by in their day-to-day lives. Elephant’s Dream follows the happenings at three separate public service areas in the city: the post office, the railway station, and the firehouse.
Director Kristof Bilsen takes a unique approach to his depiction of the Congo. Where other films about the embattled region have employed raw and gritty aesthetics, Bilsen films the action very much like a soothing daydream. Visually, Elephant’s Dream looks spectacular – the shots thoughtfully composed to look like a painting, while still clearly capturing the alternating hubbub and malaise.
Since the post office and railway station have both become pretty low traffic areas, there’s plenty of time to reflect on the frequent boredom of the workers. Admittedly the film drags a bit at these moments, but it jumps back to life when focusing on the fire station. Due to massive underfunding, the firefighters lack much of the equipment and resources to be able to do their job properly, which is demonstrated most frustratingly in a sequence where they can’t access enough water to try and put out a burning building.