Friday, August 31, 2007

Bamako (2006, Abderramane Sissako)

My reaction as the credits rolled: "if the trial scenes weren't real, they should have been; if the non-trial scenes were't fake, they could have been." In many ways, Bamako is a unique achievement- an unapologetically political statement about the World Bank and the pragmatic side of international humanitarianism in which the African people, usually presented only as smiling children or miserable adults in charity ads, have a say about their plight. It's talky as hell, but all the better for it, and the trial scenes are so fascinating that they give didacticism- a word often connoted as negative- a good name. I could've watched 90 minutes of these scenes, frankly. The scenes not devoted to debate are more uneven, sadly- Sissako too often resorts to uninspired setup-and-payoff, most egregiously in the subplot involving some business over a gun. Some of this seeps into the trial as well, when the man not permitted to speak in the early scene finally leaps up during the final arguments and pours out his heart in song (I was kind of troubled by the lack of subtitles here- if it was the filmmakers' idea, it strikes me as a clumsy way to portray a pure, un-Westernized bit of African culture; if it was the subtitlers' doing, what gives?). Fortunately, the good stuff far outpaces the dodgy stuff, and Bamako proves far superior to Sissako's last film, the inexplicably-lauded snoozer Waiting for Happiness. Also, while I'm not as high on Bamako as this guy is, I'm with him on what the final shot should have been. Don't you hate it when directors have a perfect finish in their grasp but can't manage to stop there? Rating: 7 out of 10.

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