Mandabi (1968)

OUSMANE SEMBENE

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.  /, 1968.   .   Screenplay by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Film Editing by , .  

Ousmane Sembene applies his brittle comedic skill to a tale of tragedy in a small village.  A man who has been suffering a lengthy period of unemployment comes home to his two wives and is told that his nephew has sent him a money order from Paris.  The sum of 250 francs arrives with instructions that the majority of the money is to be put aside for the nephew’s savings, while also welcoming the uncle to keep a portion as the sender is well aware that he has been struggling to keep house and home together.  The process of getting the money order fulfilled puts our protagonist in a series of increasingly dire quandaries, he can’t cash it without making promises on the administrative requirements that go along with it, and they snowball as he is more and more vulnerable to friends who have their own monetary needs and bureaucratic officials who have little sympathy for his situation.  A sequence that depicts the nephew sweeping roads in Paris and telling his uncle of his optimism about the future is Sembene at his most pathos-inspiring, but his skill for Chaplinesque, bittersweet storytelling stays consistent through to the end, allowing the film to feel light and effortless despite its main character’s harsh dilemma.  Excellent acting from the entire cast furthers the enjoyment of what is credited as the first African film in an African language (Wolof in this case), as does bright and colourful cinematography and the exquisite direction by this master of cinema.

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