October 10, 2009
Min Yè, 2009
During the Q&A for the film, Souleymane Cissé and lead actress Sokona Gakou remarked that with only one remaining movie theater in the country, just being able to make a film in Mali is something of a small miracle. It is a responsibility to Malian and African culture that is not lost in Min Yè, a vivid panorama of contemporary middle-class life in Mali that eschews all too familiar images of stagnation, illiteracy, and poverty that often serve as scapegoats for enabling archaic customs. In Min Yè, the polygamist is not an uneducated villager but a Westernized filmmaker, Issa (Assane Kouyaté), whose third wife, Mimi (Gakou) is a doctor and high-profile health minister. Accustomed to a certain degree of empowerment and independence from her husband (deciding to stay in her own house instead of moving into his household), Mimi carries on a not-too-subtle affair with the married Abba (Alou Sissoko), a fishmonger who sends her a tell-tale case of fish after each encounter as a token of his affection. Confronted by Issa with his suspicions of infidelity after he finds Abba in the courtyard, Mimi decides to file for divorce, a move that soon brings on a new set of complications, as relatives plead for reconciliation to avoid the shame, Issa's second wife increasingly resents the attention paid to Mimi, and Abba's wife begins to grow suspicious of Mimi's role in her husband's life. Cissé subtly, but incisively explores the question of polygamy through its corrosive repercussions - from abrogated custodial rights of women to their children, to the hypocrisy of adultery laws that enforce a one-sided marriage fidelity, to societal pressures that foster a status quo, even among the powerful, educated leaders and professionals who are in a position to enable social change.