44 Films: Film 13 of 44: "Bamako" (2006)
Film 13 of 44:
Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako
So, I broke a rule, and went back to a film I had seen before. I was younger then, and had little sense of what good film was. I watched Bamako then because I was told to, and I decided it was good because I was told it was. I didn't remember much about the details, but its premise remained etched somewhere, in that part of the psyche that tells you something is important. That was one of three memories I had of the film. The other two were a court case, and the musical talent of the film's lead, Aissa Maiga. But we'll return to that.
Bamako is based in a quaint rural homestead in present day Mali. For some unspecified reason, the West (that is the WTO, IMF and G8) is on trial. The plaintiff is African society, represented by a huddle of lawyers and a collection of diverse and gloriously eloquent African witnesses. They present concrete, factual evidence castigating Western powers for their role in impoverishing, exploiting and subjugating the continent. Meanwhile, a cabaret singer (Maiga) steps out of her house every morning and saunters by the proceedings, leaving her husband and daughter, to perform songs for strangers in a club.
As the film unravels, conversations are had between the judges and counsel, between the villagers and journalists, and between strangers sitting listening in outside the courtyard. We're even granted a film-within-a-film, a short Western with a surprise appearance by a certain Hollywood actor. There are many layers of meaning to Bamako, the sort which are revealed over repeat viewings. Sissako is a filmmaker of statements and commentary, but his overall desire is simply to make good film. His later film Timbuktu mused on religious oppression in a jihadist occupied village, but it was its character studies and arresting visuals that really shone through. While much of Bamako is dedicated to the conventions of any court case; strung-out monologues, technical expositions and such, Sissako balances them with the most ordinary vistas of rural living. Take for instance a conversation on The West's complicity in aggravating African debt, which is juxtaposed with footage of a ram tethered to a tree and trying to break free. Sissako has quaint moments like these play before the camera, with the characters seemingly unaware of the dissonance of the international case in the small village square. We are left no choice but to go with it. And it's an intriguing ride.
Bamako is necessary and consequential. It beautifully conveys the type of conversations we ought to have about Africa; pragmatic, unabated and free of hyperbole. There are so many quotable, pro-African lines of dialogue that I wish the film was made into a book.
Of course, if that happened -- prepare for an uncomfortable truth, friends... you're ready? here we go -- less people might encounter it. I would be delighted if I was wrong about that.
Meanwhile, please watch this film.
#44Films is in essence, supposed to be a daily film viewing and reviewing project. Keeping up has been particularly difficult this season, but I will endeavour to improve. Thanks for reading thus far. Some great films are on the way.
See you tomorrow!