Good Luck Is a Curse in This Classic Film From Senegal


Neorealism was born in postwar Italy. By the mid-Nineteen Fifties, nonetheless, its biggest examples had been made overseas. “Mandabi” (“The Cash Order”), the second function movie by the dean of West African filmmakers Ousmane Sembène (1923-2007), is one. Filmed with a solid of nonprofessionals on the streets of Dakar, Senegal, it’s a mordant fable of fine fortune gone dangerous. Newly restored, the 1968 film may be streamed from Film Forum, beginning Jan. 15.

“Cease killing us with hope,” exclaims one of many two wives of the film’s dignified but hapless protagonist Ibrahima, a religious Muslim who hasn’t labored in 4 years. The postman simply instructed them that, like a bolt out of the blue, a cash order had arrived from Ibrahima’s nephew in Paris.

Information travels quick. Needy neighbors, to not point out the native imam, arrive with their arms out. In the meantime, Ibrahima learns that to be able to money the cash order, he will need to have an identification card, and to get an identification card, he wants a start certificates, and to acquire a start certificates, he will need to have a good friend in court docket — to not point out {a photograph} and the cash to get one. Being illiterate, Ibrahima will even require somebody to clarify each process. As soon as the command heart for France’s African colonies, Dakar has no scarcity of bureaucrats.

Whereas it’s by no means made clear precisely how Ibrahima has managed to assist two wives, seven kids and his personal vainness in a metropolis the place recent water is a money commodity, his wives wait on him as if he had been a child. An precise toddler wails off-camera as Ibrahima is pampered however a extra profound irony issues his identification. His mission to money his nephew’s cash order reveals that he has none, a minimum of in any official sense. Worse, his quest for a windfall that isn’t even his units him up as a mark for all method of swindlers, hustlers and thieves — in a phrase, society at giant.

The individuals Ibrahima encounters are largely consumed with self-interest. “Mandabi” nonetheless is kind of beneficiant — wealthy intimately, a feast for the eyes and ears. The colours are vibrant and saturated; the title music was an area hit till, apparently recognizing its subversive energy, the Senegalese authorities banned it from the radio. (Typically attributed to a brief story by Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, the film has a sophisticated relation to authority which can account for the lower than convincing optimism of its tacked-on ending.)

Reviewing “Mandabi” when it was proven on the 1969 New York Movie Pageant, The New York Instances’s movie critic Roger Greenspun wrote that, “as a comedy coping with life’s miseries, it shows a managed sophistication.” Certainly, “Mandabi” might initially look like a narrative out of Kafka or the E book of Job, however it basically criticizes a post-colonial system that pits class towards class within the exploitation of almost all.

It’s additionally a satire of self-deception. Years in the past, Sembène told two interviewers from Movie Quarterly that “Mandabi” had been proven all through Africa “as a result of each different nation claims that what occurs within the film happens solely in Senegal.”

Accessible for screening beginning Jan. 15; filmforum.org.



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