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This Magnificent Cake!

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
This Magnificent Cake! Movie Poster Image
Belgian import is slow but beautiful; disturbing deaths.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 44 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Subtle critiques of colonialism and racism, sparking compassion and empathy, are woven throughout this film -- like when a Pygmy man is employed in a hotel and must stand with an ashtray tied to his head for guests' cigarettes, or when a European man "climbs" a mountain by being pulled up by three African men, while two others lug his heavy trunks.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are almost all male -- no main female characters. European characters are generally presented as clueless, unkind, and caring little about lives of African people they disturb. African characters are generally kind, like a character who saves a dog's life, but all African main characters soon come to bad ends at hands of Europeans. 

Violence

At least seven characters, many main characters, die, and most for senseless reasons -- like a troupe of men who slip and fall from a bridge, into a waterfall. A small child throws a dog from a window; another character picks him up, pets him to reassure him. A man is suddenly crushed by a piano; another dies from tropical fever; viewers see his bloated face, covered with ants. 

Sex
Language

Cursing, like the rest of the movie's dialogue, is in non-English languages (Dutch, French, Aka, or Maninka), but subtitles spell out "dammit," "goddamn," "bastards," and "hell." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult character drinks beer, burps, then sings with slurred voice before passing out on floor; he later wakes up, drinks more, vomits. Later, another man singing a drinking song and acting drunk falls off a boat in pursuit of beer bottle. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that This Magnificent Cake! (originally titled Ce magnifique gâteau!) is a stop-motion animated movie set in colonial Africa during the 19th century. The dialogue is in Dutch, French, Aka, and Maninka (the latter two are African languages), with English subtitles. Although it's animated, the content in this sometimes slow-moving story is mature. No fewer than seven characters die: of tropical fever, by being crushed by a piano, by falling from a bridge into a waterfall, etc. Viewers see one bloated dead body with ants crawling on it. Animals are hurt, too: A dog is thrown from a window, and a snail is killed by a rock. Two characters are shown using the toilet, with noises. Curses are spelled out in the subtitles: "dammit," "goddamn," "bastards," "hell." Two characters drink beer, then burp, sing sloppily, and vomit; one falls off a boat (and possibly dies) trying to get his beer bottle back. Five segments focusing on different characters are linked by critiques of colonialism and racism, which may inspire conversations about the movie's setting and increase viewers' compassion and empathy for those who lived through it (or didn't).

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What's the story?

Made in Belgium in four languages (Dutch, French, and African languages Aka and Maninka) with English subtitles, THIS MAGNIFICENT CAKE! is set in 19th-century colonial Africa and follows the fates of five different characters. There's a porter who survives a terrible accident, a discontented king, a Pygmy man who works at a hotel, a military deserter, and a man who goes on a fateful expedition. Though each of the characters is very different, one thing links them: the change that has come to Africa also changes those who live or go there. 

Is it any good?

Unique and absolutely beautiful, this Belgian import achieves astonishing visual effects with felted wool characters and stop-motion photography, but its storylines are kind of a bummer. Clueless white characters bumble into Africa, act badly, and die. Ill-used African characters try to improve their financial situation by working for the Europeans who've showed up, and die. There are no fewer than seven deaths in this 44-minute film, many of them characters we've watched struggle through their own segment. Whether you find that depressing or an eerie pleasure that illuminates a dark time of history depends largely on your perspective. 

It sure is neat to look at, though. The animators use tufts and strands and puffs of wool to create waterfalls, smoke, and trickles of water from fountains. The characters have tiny, close-set eyes in giant faces; their bodies move and ripple so realistically that it's disconcerting, and almost dreamlike, to see the individual fibers they're made of. And it makes the film's creepy imagery all the creepier: the face of a dead man, swollen with decay and with ants racing back and forth across it; a Pygmy man who stands in a hotel with an ashtray strapped to his head for (white) guests to use. Even for a short film, This Magnificent Cake! is hard to watch, but it's also hard to forget. 

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