Delwende, 2005

S. Pierre Yameogo returns from last year’s NYAFF mid-career retrospective with perhaps his most mature, immediately relevant, and socially confrontational film to date, a provocative moral tale on the barbaric (and largely misogynistic) tribal custom of scapegoating through witch denunciation and exile – often of the most weak, disempowered, and vulnerable members of the village – in times of hardship, natural disasters, death, and unexplained crisis. The film opens to a seemingly idyllic rural village in Burkina Faso where the elders’ divine gratitude for the year’s bountiful harvest is tempered by the somber image of freshly buried graves in the village graveyard, and a tribal elder gathering to discuss conducting a witch hunt in an attempt to find and eradicate the source of the epidemic that causes victims, mostly children, to suffer and inevitably die in contorted agony. Ostensibly motivated by his desire to save his daughter Pougbila (Claire Ilboudo) from the seeming scourge of the fatal malady (but perhaps, more likely, to conceal a grave transgression or to divest himself of all parental responsibilities to provide for her), a village elder named Diahrra (Célestin Zongo) dispatches an emissary to bring Pougbila’s promised husband for a meeting in an attempt to expedite their marriage so that she may leave the village. But Diahrra’s strong willed wife Napoko (Blandine Yaméogo) disagrees with such a rash and selfish decision, arguing that Pougbila’s fragile emotional state after an unspoken trauma leaves her emotional unprepared for the life-altering responsibilities of an arranged marriage. In openly challenging Diahrra’s patriarchal authority over Pougbila’s future, Napoko leaves herself vulnerable to denunciation when a holy man is summoned to root out the evildoer from the village. In its fabular, affirming, and profoundly humanist approach towards critical self-examination, Delwende favorably evokes the films of Ousmane Sembene and Idrissa Ouedraogo in its incisive social expositions of outmoded customs that contribute to the cultural stagnation of post-colonial Africa.

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