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A money order from a relative in Paris throws the life of a Senegalese family man out of order. He deals with corruption, greed, problematic family members, the locals and the changing from his traditional way of living to a more modern one. Written by
Brad Yasuda <email@example.com>
In order to truly appreciate Mandabi one must first know a little something about director Ousmane Sembene. One can trace the burgeoning success of West African cinema to Sembene's body of work which aimed to tell stories that were uniquely African. Without the international success of Black Girl (1966) and Xala (1975), the work of fellow Senegalese Djibril Diop Mambety and Malian filmmaker Souleymane Cisse may have never been discovered. At first, Sembene was also an accomplished anti-colonialist writer who's concern for social change led to a directing career to reach a wider audience.
Mandabi is partially based on Sembene's short story "The Money- Order". In it an illiterate, middle-aged man attempts to cash a money-order sent by a family member who has emigrated to Paris. Due to the newly independent country's rapidly spreading corruption, a burgeoning criminal underclass, and the general incompetence of government officials, Ibrahim (Gueye) struggles to accomplish what is otherwise a simple goal.
Senegal circa 1968 was administered by the largely socialist government of President Leopold Senghor. Senghor favored close ties with former colonialist France which ran counter to long brewing resentment and popular thought among other African nations who viewed France, Britain, Belgium et al. as oppressors. Underneath the film's strong sense of irony and absurdity you get the sense that the bureaucracy (and thus the government) that controls the fate of Ibrahim is completely foreign and unnaturally weak. It operates as a tool of submission and dehumanization to someone like Ibrahim who is un-wanting or unwilling to "modernize" yet for his nephew (Diouf) and the local shop keeper (Ture) whom represent a new generation easily manages to circumvent the bureaucracy in favor of a black market. This theme is further mirrored in Sembene's satirical zenith of El Hadji (Thierno Leye) impotence in the film Xala.
Yet in Mandabi, the satire, while more subdued than Xala feels more damning towards colonization as a political system and the authoritarianism of post-colonial African society. Ibrahim hopes familial ties and a few honest favors will get him what he wants but due in-part by traditionalism mesh-mashing with multiple systems of oppression, Ibrahim can only count on his first wife's (N'Diaye) constant berating.
Ibrahim's constant struggle mirrors that of the protagonist in Bicycle Thieves (1948). Yet while that film's neo-realist flair was partially the result of war, Mandabi endeavors amid a maze of post- colonial chaos with the new generation jockeying for absolute power. Dark, frustrating and heartbreaking Mandabi showcases a story and by extension a country where authority is an unnatural corruption and only rascals win.
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