Thursday, January 07, 2010

Around the World with the Papuans

An unspoken reality about television is that not every documentary film is worthy to be watched. Many reasons can bring a documentary to fail to its primary purpose, as in being truly informative, such as uncanny facts and foundations, inappropriate storytelling, or just plain old greed.

Once in a while, however, an out-of-ordinary documentary film catches my attention. This is the case of the French documentary “L'Exploration Inversée” (trans. “Reversed Exploration”), part of the project “Le Tour Du Monde Des Papous” (trans. “Around The World With The Papuans”), originally aired on Canal+ in 2008.

The fascinating story of two Papuans exploring a foreign civilization unravels genuine emotions on film. The very same fundamental universal emotions as studied by Dr. Paul Ekman, though with a different tribe in Papua New Guinea, are brought to you in this documentary.

Marc Dozier is a photo-reporter who has devoted much of his work to study Papua New Guinea. He has decided to invite his friends, Polobi Palia and Mudeya Kepanga, both from the Huli tribe, to visit France. Polobi and Mudeya are down-to-earth, amusing, witty and charming. They are surprisingly polite and respectful. This first trip in 2003 gave birth to a book entitled “Le Long-Long Voyage” (trans. “The Long-Long Journey”). The documentary is however produced on a second trip in 2006 but retains most of the genuineness in Papuans' expressions. While this documentary film is in French, it is still worthwhile to anyone who wants to study emotions.

View Online, Download (807.34 MB)

A Journey in France...
Subway | Distinguished Dinner | Ghetto | Supermarket | Health Club
Hair Salon | Farm | Elementary School | Sea | War Cemetery
Seafood Restaurant | Hospice | Funeral Business | Catacombs
Churches | Learning to Drive | Hospital | Matadors | Skiing
Mountain Hiking | New Year Celebration | Hunting | Shopping
National Assembly | Moulin Rouge | Feather Factory

The transcripts below do not focus on accuracy because it is a translation of a translation, from Tok Pisin to French and now English. For this reason, I have sometimes separated the text from the expressions in the transcripts to avoid possible confusion, misinterpretation or misrepresentation of the reality.

Courbevoie, Paris, France
00:04:20-00:05:00 Polobi, Mudeya and Marc walk in La Défense located in Courbevoie, a suburb of Paris, France. La Grande Arche de la Défense is the huge rectangular shaped building. I was absolutely amazed the first time I was walking on Le Parvis de la Défense. The feeling of both Papuans must have been stronger than mine.

Subway, Paris, France
00:06:07-00:06:11 Mudeya curiosity brings him to look at the newspaper: a partial macroexpression of fear appears in his face, he looks down, he looks at the lady and he finally looks away. Now, why is that...
00:06:12-00:06:16 Polobi has glossy eyes and a serious tense face. His eyelids are more open until 00:06:14 supporting his astonishment, and perhaps a hint of fear. He never been in a subway before.

Distinguished Dinner, Château de Cardou, Dordogne, France
00:08:15 Polobi offers to dress the table. “We will try to help you. You will show us and we will do the same.”
00:09:15 Mudeya: “Whites really have strange traditions. It's not easy to eat with them, eh? To eat, they need as many tools as to repair a car.”
00:09:32 Polobi: “You're right.”

00:11:19 Polobi and Mudeya have a toast! Polobi: “You must properly look at me in the eyes, it's the tradition!”

Ghetto, Le Havre, Seine-Maritime, France
00:15:58 Young black male voice: “Go away, bunch of bastards!”
00:16:01 Mudeya: “What does he say, [over] there?” Some fear seems to appear on his face but it is very difficult to notice even with video enhancements.
00:16:05 Mudeya: “This kind of guy, you'll see, he will come to hit us with an axe... and [then] shoot us.”
00:16:11 Mudeya: “We did not know what to reply, so we got out because we were scared.”

00:17:06 Polobi: “At home, those who have money live with those who don't have any. So the rich help the poorest, they give them something to eat. Here is how we do, us, the Papuans.”
00:17:15 Polobi: “I have the impression that you [the whites], it's not the same. I don't know. Do you help each other?”
Polobi shows anger with a jaw thrust at 00:17:15, most likely toward our society for not helping and sharing with the poor. A microexpression of disgust can be seen at 00:17:16, which most likely means “I don't know [but it disgusts me].” The conversation ends up with Polobi having his chin up high, higher than level, supporting the idea that he is really angry.

Health Club
00:23:02 Mudeya: “So to make it faster [growing muscles], the whites take a medicine that looks like kerosene.”
Polobi goes on and drinks the protein-based beverage at 00:23:15. He blinks once at 00:23:16. He blinks once again at 00:23:17 but now the eyebrows are lowered. He then observes the bottle at a distance with his eyebrows lowered at 00:23:19 and 00:23:20. He finally swallows the beverage at 00:23:21.
00:23:21 Marc: “You like or not?!”
00:23:24 Marc: “So, you like?”
00:23:25 Polobi: “Yes, yes, I love it.” His reaction when he drank contradicts these words.
00:23:26 Mudeya: “Please, I can have some me too?”
00:23:34 Polobi: “In fact, it's disgusting. I pretended it was good. I deceived Mudeya to make him taste too. But, in fact, it's really infect [poisonous, repulsive, etc].”

Confrécourt, Aisne, France
00:30:36 Polobi: “What for did you fight? For the lands, for gold, for gas. Why?”
00:30:42 Jean-Luc shows embarrassment with a microexpression, where his chin goes up using chin raiser muscles.
00:30:47 Jean-Luc is embarrassed once more.

00:31:23 Jean-Luc: “You see that? It's a grenade. It's made to kill and it still kills anyway...”
00:31:29 Polobi shows a partial microexpression of fear.

Bétheny, Marne, France
Mudeya and Polobi take the ceremony to honour those who have fallen during the war seriously. It can be seen at 00:34:24 and 00:34:30. Mudeya makes a speech at 00:33:43.

Saint Malo, Ille-et-Vilaine, France
00:41:49 Mudeya and Polobi sing on a sea boat. =)

Seafood restaurant
00:43:11 They are presented with a “Plateau de Fruits de Mer” (trans. Seafood Platter).
00:43:31 Mudeya shows a microexpression of disgust.
00:43:33 Mudeya: “But this is alive!”
00:43:53 Mudeya shows a microexpression of disgust again and again on 00:43:55.
00:43:54 Mudeya: “If I was a man of sea, I would eat [the seafood]... but since I am a man of mountains, I don't eat it.”
This segment is interesting because it is clearly an attempt by Mudeya to avoid offending Marc. Rather than saying “It is disgusting!”, he chooses to deflect and focus on the fact that he is a man of mountains. This is a lie, perhaps, because he is concealing his true feelings about seafood but such a white lie is usually accepted as a form of politeness.

Funeral Business “Pompes Funèbres, L'Autre Rive”
00:48:37 Mudeya is not open to the conversation at hand (about funeral). Arm crossed with hands hidden under the pit arms is good sign expressing lack of openness. As a matter of fact, Papuans don't like to speak about death.

Catacombs of Paris, Paris, France
00:51:20 Mudeya: “There, I was really scared.”
00:51:21 Mudeya shows a partial microexpression of anger, his brow lowered and his face tensed up. He may be angry at himself to fear such a place.

00:51:30 Mudeya: “How many are they?!”
00:51:32 Polobi: “They said 6 millions people.”
00:51:35-00:51:45 Polobi shows repeatedly a partial macroexpression of fear.

Church, Saint Cyprien, Dordogne, France
00:53:16 Polobi: “Ah. It breaks my heart.” Polobi is very emotional at that moment.
00:53:20 Polobi: “Everybody who will hear this music will rush here. They don't want to come to church when they hear this melody? They won't be able to resist it. They will fill up the church and believe in your God.”

Hospital, Hôpital de l'Hôtel-Dieu, Paris
00:55:31 Polobi: “Don't say that I have 40 years old. Say that I have 36 or 37 years old because I will otherwise have no chance with the French women.”
00:56:11 Doctor: “Eh. Could you remove the pants that I can see up there [the knee].”
00:56:14 Polobi: “Hey! It's very hard what you are asking me there because we don't remove pants like this in front of a woman. Oh, no.” Polobi gets up in protestation at 00:56:16. Legs have a sexual connotation to Papuans.
00:56:23 A member of the tribe: “It's true?!”
00:56:24 Mudeya: “Yes, I assure you. Whites don't have any shame. It's not [proper] manners to do, these customs. It's the wife of another man. She should be ashamed.”
00:56:29 Mudeya shows a microexpression of disgust.
They go on with the medical evaluation. The personnel ask him to remove his pants few more times.
00:58:36 Marc: “It's all right, you can put back your pants now.”
00:58:40 Polobi: “You know, we are here with the whites now and it doesn't bother me anymore. I am not ashamed anymore. At home, I couldn't walk around like this but here I could walk around butt naked, eh, it wouldn't be a problem. What do you think? Anyway, they have already seen everything... even the inside of my knees, so... so I-I could walk around nude, no problem. Say, I could even stay to flirt with them a little bit.”

Matadors, Gabarret, Landes, France
01:02:39 Mudeya shows a partial macroexpression of surprise when a matador skillfully avoids a bull. Polobi may also be surprised since he has his mouth open.
01:02:44 Polobi heads shake no in disbelief while Mudeya is still very surprised.
01:02:55-01:02:56 Polobi shows a partial macroexpression of fear after a matador gets the bull's horns in a painful manner.
01:03:05 Mudeya shows a partial macroexpression of fear and hides himself behind the tree as a protection.
01:04:21 Mudeya: “The cows are big and you, you're as small as us...” Mudeya avoids to look at the matador and then he shows a partial microexpression of anger at 01:04:23. Mudeya continues and he says “so how you can fly over like this. You use magic?!” Perhaps, Mudeya really believes the matador uses magic?

01:12:45-01:12:57 Papuans do enjoy clay animation. They almost look like kids. =)

Mountains, Vaujany, Isère, France
01:13:50 Mudeya: “We tried to climb all up in a mountain but we did not really see [understand] what the whites went to search up there. There's no food, no women, no houses.”
01:17:00 Polobi: “Mudeya turned up crazy about your ski. I think that he has caught this disease of white men. Me, I would be able to do it [skiing] as well as you [do], even better. [clearing throat] But, I have pain in [my] knee... [clearing throat again] so I cannot play with your snow.” Did we catch a Papuan in a lie?!

New Year Eve, Grenoble, Isère, France
01:18:50 Mudeya: “At exactly midnight, whites turn up completely crazy. Everybody yell "Happy New Year", "Happy New Year". They laugh around and do anything [as in crazy things].”
01:19:00 A member of the tribe: “And why they are doing this the whites?” He shows a microexpression of disgust, possibly twice (one time when the image switch to the tribe home and another time at 01:19:01).
01:19:03 Mudeya: “Well, it's a tradition that must come from their ancestors.”

Hunting Wild Boar, Dompnac, Ardèche, France
01:22:01 Polobi: “At you [the whites], government runs everything. If you don't have enough money to pay taxes, the government will put you in jail. On your roads, there are pay tolls. For your houses, there are taxes. And for your lands too. The government watches you all the time, all the time, all the time. Whatever you do, it watches you. Tell him.” Polobi shows a microexpression of contempt at 01:22:12.
01:22:24 Hunter: “My God, [neck tightens] it's the laws.” The hunter expresses fear toward the object of the observation (e.g. the government watches [and runs] you constantly).

01:34:03 Zoom-in on a picture of Mudeya expressing disgust.

Moulin Rouge, Paris
01:34:27-01:35:32 Polobi and Mudeya are definitively emotionally aroused. They are in disbelief and surprised. Their expressions includes the famous jaw drop at 01:34:32 and few other times I believe.
01:36:07 Mudeya: “Could I try them [the feathers], please? And me, I will lend you mine.”
01:36:10-01:36:12 Julie (showgirl) let her jaw drop and then she open her eyes wide. The timing, lack of synchronicity, lack of eyebrows up, and the exaggeration tell me that it is a faked expression. Surprise is an expression that is usually very quick when genuine and every part that is present (eyebrows, eyelids, mouth open or jaw drop) happen at the same time. A showgirl would most likely portrait the emotion longer than necessary to make sure her audience sees it properly.

01:36:35 Mudeya: “The most surprising to us with the feathers, it's that at whites, it is the women who take care of them.” Mudeya shows a partial microexpression of fear at 01:36:40.
01:38:09 Mudeya: “But, at them, feathers, it has no particular meaning. It's just to dance.” Arm crossed with hands hidden under the pit arms is good sign expressing lack of openness. Mudeya may not like that the whites don't care for the feathers as they do.

This is an amazing documentary film to be watched (and even rewatched). It is pleasantly surprising to see the two Papuans through their journey with their good humour and good spirit. The most striking for me is the emotions and expressions they make as they discover France and its attractions, or just plain ol' life. It reminds me my own journey across the world. Finally, this documentary is a great source of study when it comes to emotions.


  1. hi, I just watched part of this documentary on tv, but it had English subtitles. I'd be lost without them. I saw that your link to the stream has the original French. Do you know where to get a subtitled version?

  2. Hi Greg,

    The original version of this documentary is the only one I have found. I searched for English subtitles to write my article but without success.

    The documentary is absolutely amazing. Which part did you like the most?


  3. Its amazing throughout. From the humorous aspects to the rare opportunity of seeing our culture from a new viewpoint.

    I did like the funny parts most:
    "To eat, they need as many tools as to repair a car."

    ... saying the protein shake tasted like kerosene...
    “In fact, it's disgusting. I pretended it was good. I deceived Mudeya to make him taste too."

    visiting the pig farm


    This must be found in English !