Ousmane Sembene – Xala (1975)

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Quote:
A successful, middle-aged businessman named El Hadj Abdoukader Beye (Thierno Leye) has reached the pinnacle of the economic elite by participating in a native revolt against colonialist authorities and, along with his colleagues, seized control of the chamber of commerce. Despite the newly convened commerce board’s altruistic declarations for establishing compassionate socialism, rampant corruption and abuse of power become immediately apparent as the board members are individual handed money-laden briefcases by an inscrutable and reticent Western businessman. Beye uses the jovial atmosphere to remind the board that his marriage ceremony to his third, and significantly younger co-wife, Ngone (Dieynaba Niang), is already in progress (ironically, despite his absence) and extends an invitation for the afternoon wedding reception at his recently purchased third home. On the way to the reception, Beye stops by the home of his first wife, Adja (Seune Samb), in order to prepare for the wedding festivities, and encounters his independent and outspoken university-aged daughter, Rama (Miriam Niang), who expresses her disapproval for her father’s third marriage by encouraging her mother to seek a divorce. Beye attempts to justify his actions by appealing to her sense of cultural pride, hypocritically commenting that the practice of polygamy was an ancestral religious practice even before the appearance of colonialists. In order to keep peace within the family and maintain a cordial, social appearance, Adja agrees to accompany Beye along with his second wife, Oumi (Younouss Seye), to the wedding reception, where the two women soon find themselves awkwardly out of place in their co-wife’s new marital home, and eager for an expedient excuse to leave. Meanwhile, despite his insistence on their non-necessity, Beye is encouraged by his friends to consume superstitious concoctions in order to ensure a successful wedding night. However, on the following morning, his anxious and interfering new mother-in-law pays a visit only to find that Beye was unable to consummate the marriage. Convinced that his affliction was caused by an unidentified person’s xala (curse of sexual impotence), Beye abandons everything in an obsessive search for a cure. Continue reading

Ousmane Sembene – Camp de Thiaroye AKA The Camp at Thiaroye (1987)

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“It’s possible that a good half of the greatest African movies ever made are the work of novelist-turned-filmmaker Ousmane Sembene (Black Girl, Xala, Ceddo). Camp Thiaroye (1988), cowritten and codirected by Thierno Faty Sow, recounts an incident that occurred in 1944. Returning from four years of European combat in the French army, Senegalese troops are sent to a transit camp, where they have to contend with substandard food and other indignities. An intellectual sergeant major (Ibrahima Sane) gets thrown out of a local bordello when he goes there for a drink; mistaken for an American soldier, he’s arrested and beaten by American MPs, which provokes his men into kidnapping an American GI. Then when the Senegalese troops discover that they’re about to be cheated out of half their back pay, they launch a revolt. Continue reading

Ousmane Sembene – Mandabi AKA The Money Order (1968)

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A money order from a relative in Paris throws the life of a Senegalese family man out of order. He deals with corruption, greed, problematic family members, the locals and the changing from his traditional way of living to a more modern one.

From Time Out:

A political film criticising the type of bureaucracy that has arisen in post-colonial Senegal. A money order is sent to an unemployed, illiterate relative by a hard-working lad seeking his fortune in Paris. But all attempts to cash the money order are frustrated: the man’s illiteracy and ignorance of finance allow him to be exploited by those with education. The power is in the hands of the clerks and intellectuals, who use their knowledge for private advantage. Although the film can be criticised for the relative gentleness of its attack, Sembene succeeds in pointing up the divisiveness created by the colonial heritage. The French-colonised elite are now busy oppressing and colonising their own people. Shot in Wolof, the local language, the film asserts Senegalese culture against the rapacious way of the West. Not surprisingly it proved popular with the ‘people’, but was ignored by the bourgeois when originally released. Continue reading