April 16, 2009
Sex, Okra and Salted Butter, 2008
Similar to Pierre Yameogo's Me and My White Pal, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's crisp, lighthearted satire Sex, Gumbo and Salted Butter reflects on the challenges posed by dislocation, estrangement, and cultural assimilation. For old-fashioned family patriarch and Malian expatriate, Malik (Marius Yelolo), the belated culture shock of immigrating to Bordeaux comes when his attractive, much younger wife, Hortense (Mata Gabin) decides to run away with one of her patients - an oyster farmer (a not so subtle reference to her sexual awakening after a passionless marriage) named Jean-Paul (Manuel Blanc) and, in the process of enlisting his eldest son, Dani's (Dioucounda Koma) help to help find her, discovers that Dani has not been harboring his mother in his apartment, but rather, a gay lover. Meanwhile, having neglected his younger sons in pursuit of his wayward wife - in a hopeless display of romanticism that included surprising her at work and serenading her with a kora from her hospital window (followed by a swift ejection from the grounds by security) - the boys have begun to search for their own surrogate caretaker, first, in the genial, if repressed, widowed neighbor, Madame Myriam (Lorella Cravotta), and subsequently, in Dani's troubled friend, Amina (Aïssa Maïga). Resigned to a life of dodging questions from his ever-disapproving, busybody elders, and tolerable, if unconventional living arrangement with Amina, Malik finds a glimmer of hope for reconciliation with the arrival of Hortense's aunt, Tatie Afoué (Marie-Philomène Nga) from Africa, only to find that the headstrong Afoué has her own ideas about tradition. As in Yameogo's film, the comedy of errors in Sex, Gumbo and Salted Butter stems from misperceptions of identity - gender, familial, and racial roles that, rather than upholding culture, ends up distorting it in its rigidity and exclusion.