Review by Belle Mcintyre Looking Back, Looking Forward: 20 Years of the New York African Film Festival, is dedicated to commemorating 50 years of African Cinema. It began at Lincoln Center from April 3 - 9 and continues at the Mayles Cinema and BamCinematek in May, where selected films will be shown.
The four films which I saw were all wonderful in different ways with diverse styles but the thread that connects this group seemed to be the tension between tradition and modernity represented by opportunity and freedom.
Life on Earth (1998, Mali, Mauritania) Abderrahmane Sissako’s beautiful, elegiac tribute to his origins in a small village called Sokolo in Mali was shown at Cannes in 1998. It takes place in the future at the time of the millenium when Dramane (played by Sissako) returns home from Paris to visit his father. The life in this village of mud houses with thatched roofs is so simple and pared down that waiting for the millenium and the return of Dramane are events of epic proportion.
Sissako’s depiction of life in Sokolo is lovingly and lyrically photographed that it brings to mind Terrence Malick. But the way that he punctuates the rhythms of the village life, the animals, children playing, old men gathering and people going about their business is pure Luis Bunuel. There are recurring scenes at the post office which has the only telephone, and where we get to see the details of individual lives in amusing and often frustrating exchanges with ancient and erratic equipment and the outside world. There is a portrait photographer who sets up his large format huge camera in the street with his little portable set with a single backdrop everyday and waits for business. And there is the radio station consisting of an old man with headphones, a microphone and a turntable to whom we return to get news of the world as it relates to the village. When the millenium arrives and is announced everything goes back as it was.
The only sign of progress occurs at the end when a young man on a motorcycle comes swooping into the village and rides through the dirt lanes. Until that scene there have been only bicycles, or cattle-drawn carts. It is a startling juxtaposition. The film is really a moving and ravishing portrait of a place out of time with the world.
Image Courtesy of African Film NY