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October 1, 2006

Bamako, 2006

bamako.gifFrom the opening image of the first witness called to testify in Bamako, the village griot - a tribal ancient and tale teller who passes on his culture's collective history from generation to generation through the orality of ancient chants - who, paradoxically, is unable to communicate his testimony (and, in broader implication, the testimony of his people) in his own native country of Mali because of logistical difficulties with translating his indigenous language to French, the country's official language for governmental and bureaucratic affairs, Abderrahmane Sissako unveils his critical, impassioned, caustic, and uncompromising approach to examining the repercussions of globalization and subsidized trade on the developing nations of post-colonial Africa. Framed against the backdrop of quotidian life in a Bamako village as couples marry and separate, cloth dyers attend to their business, the unemployed spend their idle time waiting for something to happen (or immersing in speculative studies in the hopes of gaining future employment opportunity), and local villagers alternately look on at the proceedings with equal bemusement, apathy, and tedium, Sissako launches an allegorical, provocative, and bracing indictment against the World Bank, the G8, and the International Monetary Fund for transgressions against the African continent that have led to systematic underdevelopment, insoluble debt, cultural marginalization, and continued reliance on international charity. Like the incongruous juxtaposition between the lives of the villagers and the intrusive tribunal, the disparity between the issues presented by the self-appointed arbiters of justice and the society that they represent is also a tenuous balance that confronts the very notion of indigenous cultural solvency at the beginning of the 21st century, as the sub-Saharan nations stagnate between economic development and exploitation, bureaucratic efficiency and corruption, modernization and cultural extinction, global interdependence and neediness. This dilemma is inferentially encapsulated in the film within a film Western sequence (with a cameo by actor Danny Glover who co-executive produced the film) that incisively channels the spirit of Nigerien film pioneer, Moustapha Alassane's Le Retour d'un Aventurier, the first native African film ever made that, ironically, depicted all the conventions of a Hollywood Western plot (albeit with African cowboys chasing zebras instead of wild horses). In evoking the specter of Alassane's seminal, but intrinsically derivative film, Sissako traces the inequitable history of western subservience and imitation to the figurative beginning, a sobering imputation that the socio-economic problems of post-colonial Africa are not only the residual legacy of economic imperialism and unfair trade, but also culturally self-inflicted in the naïve imitation of an unattainable western ideal.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 01, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Abderrahmane Sissako, New York Film Festival


My fantasy is that someday I will get to watch a film with you and that, during the darkness, I will look over and see wheels of burning thought in the silhouette of your head.

Posted by: Maya on Nov 05, 2006 2:14 AM | Permalink

Err...those gears have been jammed a long time ago, wedged against an overstuffed "useless trivia" file depository. :(

Posted by: acquarello on Nov 05, 2006 10:32 AM | Permalink

Well, I respect your mannered humility and will leave it at that.

I was at your site this morning researching your capsules on Marco Bellocchio, who is the featured honoree at this year's Italian Film Festival here in San Francisco. Several of his films are being screened along with his most recent and, again, I am being tossed a jewel and have been asked if I would like to interview him. How could I not?

I bring him up here only in that, while researching Bellocchio this morning, I came across David Pelleceur's "Senses of Cinema" interview with actor Lou Castel and was struck by Castel's response to Pelleceur's inquiry into his involvement with leftist Italian westerns. For me, Castel's response resonated with the film-within-a-film in "Bamako." Castel said, "[T]he Manichean side of those Westerns, their escapism and identification — this annihilates the reality of class conflict. And at the same time, it's a reflection of this conflict, in the sense that tensions really existed; this may be the reason why the Western genre came into being. Still, the ideas remain hidden. Somebody wrote in 'Cinéthique' that the Western was a 'hypostasis of the class struggle'. Yes, but it's like the Bible: invent a popular language in order to screw the masses even more, meanwhile obscuring the real conflicts of alienated work."

Is it just me reading into it or is there that guised commentary on class conflict in the "Bamako" movie within a movie?

Posted by: Maya on Nov 05, 2006 2:21 PM | Permalink

Interesting, that idea of "flattened" class structure does fit in well with the inclusion of the Western in Bamako, particularly in the context that Danny Glover is also one of the first ones (if not the first one) to fire a shot at the village. It makes it a kind of dysfunctional equality, much like the way Africa's "equal access" to the global economy is really something that is undercutting its own long term viability and sustainability.

Posted by: acquarello on Nov 05, 2006 6:53 PM | Permalink

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