Angelo Soliman is no Longer the Other in New Film

Austrian director Markus Schleinzer, after the success of Michael at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, presents his second feature film at the Torino Film Festival: Angelo. The filmmaker’s previous experience as a casting director — selecting adult and child performers in over seventy films — is evident in the way he selects actors who physically and empathetically embody the characters they live out on screen.

Angelo is based on true events, about the African born Angelo Soliman, who was taken by force from his homeland at a very young age at the beginning of the early 18th century. The child was chosen by a European countess to be baptized and educated. As an adult Angelo become the darling of the Viennese court until, on the height of his prestige, he fell in love with a young white maidservant.

Soliman was defined by the Viennese ethnologists during his lifetime, as the “physiognomic Moor” and was thus framed into the rudimentary ideas concerning the “African savage.” Throughout his life, Angelo Soliman could not escape the taxonomic view that focused on typical racial characteristics. Not even his membership in the Freemasons nor his social standing could prevent his posthumous exploitation, leading to his ultimate status as the “mummified Moor.” The film includes also the way a reputable member of intellectual Viennese society was transformed into an exotic specimen. Instead of receiving a Christian burial, Soliman was skinned, stuffed and made into an exhibit within a cabinet of curiosities — at the request of the director of the Imperial Natural History Collection. Soliman’s daughter Josefine sought to have his remains returned to the family, but her petitions were in vain.

As our world — that had apparently demolished barriers of race, gender and age — is regressing to a racist, sexist and ageist society, Angelo becomes a powerful and timely parable of discrimination towards who is different. In the case of Angelo, the jaundiced eye is geared on the bastions of old-line whiteness. Director Schleinzer describes this concept very effectively: “Angelo for me turns out to be a story about limitation and the desire of ‘the other’ for embourgeoisement and dissolution into mass and standard. A tale about getting tired of being different. A discourse about acceptance and tolerance. As for me the story of the black skin is a mere vehicle. Because being different is in all of us. That is what I want to tell a story about. That is where I find myself.