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11 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Notes on Ousmane Sembene's XALA

Author: BottleGourdPlant from San Francisco, CA
6 November 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The protagonist of XALA, El Hadji, is a government official in Senegal and the living embodiment of what colonization has done to a modern post-colonial mind with a frame of reference revolving around how a French official would manage Senegal. Failing to realize, sadly, the specific needs of his country, El Hadji is caught in a self-destructive mentality that forces him to ignore domestic issues and exploit the people in an eerily similar fashion reminiscent of his French predecessors.

Mother France is no longer running the show, yet El Hadji continues to act as if his country were a colony. The residual effects of colonialism emit from every corner of Senegal as the "free" government continues to conform to a standard that has long decomposed as the men in charge focus on personal, self-seeking pursuits. It is like one of those horribly sad factory farm chickens that are given growth hormones to make it get big really fast. Its legs have not quite developed to support the unnatural growth and eventually it dies of starvation because it cannot walk to the food and water. What is more, the people that do this to the chickens do not care of their suffering, but are looking only to make a profit. The Senegal depicted in XALA is a "developing" country, with the mentality of the first world riddled with acute egocentric sentiments that have nothing to do with politics but everything to do with social starvation.

El Hadji is black, just like his people, yet continues to oppress and forget them like the whites that set the standard years before. But this similarity in skin color will not offset the modes El Hadji feels is appropriate in exercising his dominance. The common people are viewed as undesirable garbage that should be sloughed aside and forgotten. El Hadji's refusal to speak the native Wolof is his last insult to his people for Wolof reminds him that he too is African, like the "garbage" outside. In order to serve the people, which should be the emphasis of his job, El Hadji must communicate with them in a way they understand (Wolof) but his self-hatred is so acute, he does not care to reach his people and communicate -- his wealth and position have blinded him. This absence of effective government-people communication perpetuates neocolonialist marginalization of the native people whilst the men in charge thrive, laugh, and expand.

Exaberating the situation is El Hadji's overt willingness to cling to so-called primitive and non-European traditions when they best fit him, satisfy his appetites, or fix a problem. Only for these brief, selfish interludes does El Hadji connect with his repressed past. As Frederick Ivor Case writes in 'Ontological discourse in Ousmane Sembene's Cinema' the Senegalese government depicted in XALA "rejects their own language, and value only those customs -- polygamy, for example -- that satisfy their need to dominate and indulge in themselves" (98). Doesn't El Hadji realize that French men (usually!) have one wife? What happened to his obsession with everything French? Further, due to his materialism and greed, a curse is put upon El Hadji rendering him impotent. Once again, solely for personal benefit, he "resorts" to African shamanistic traditions to reverse the curse. At the close of the film, El Hadji must undergo a humiliating ignominy at the hands of the forgotten townspeople, the very people he has subjugated in order to regain his manhood.

The treatment of El Hadji resonates in heightened overtones for the African audience that consumed the film. Francoise Pfaff notes in 'The Uniqueness of Ousmane Sembene's Cinema' that "XALA's theme of punishment of greed, selfishness, vanity, and waste is highly popular in African folktales, and so are topics of the lowly rebelling against the powerful" (17). A genius way to reach the masses and allow them to identify with his film, Sembene interweaves contemporary issues with familiar African themes to speak in a (cinematic) language people would readily understand. Such an audience would realize that El Hadji's impotence is representative of a certain refusal to "get up" and address pending needs through a lens that focuses on Senegal, not France.

At what cost could a country, tainted for so many years, break away from displaced truths and standards another country forced down its throat for a period that retrospectively seems like an eternity? What makes the neocolonialist model unique is the absence of a foreign, colonizing country and the subsistence of a previous foreign, colonizing country's ghost. The Senegalese government is confused by this ghost as the citizens wallow in ignorance, acceptance, and misery. It is a reverberating cycle that can only be broken when extreme reconstruction and rebirth is perused, not only by the government, but by the people. XALA's open-ended closure depicting the people spitting on El Hadji leaves the audience with a keen realization that power ultimately resides with the people. It is the people that can undo the "curse," the ghost, and bring things back to a place where their lives are not whitewashed with foreign culture and ideology.

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17 out of 25 people found the following review useful:

Probably the sharpest satire I have ever seen

Author: John Wayne from The Orchestra
6 November 2000

Films like American Beauty are sharp, but Xala's theatrical style and unrelenting debasement of Senegalese society is worthy of far more Oscars than the frankly over-rated A.B.

Without the distraction of stars and tricky camera work, Xala is straight to the point, and makes no attempt to beautify or wax lyrical about their country in the midst of corruption and lies.

I recommend this film to someone with an open mind and a love of pure cinema.

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7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

hilarious and stinging

Author: tRiVi8L
28 October 1999

Sembene was once again the failing of government in Senegal and even most of Africa. This time after native Africans come to power.

The juxtaposition of regular, hard-working, citizens with the spoiled, corrupt, and prejudice (to their own citizens) government officials packs a heavy message. And unlike most, Sembene simply does not photograph the regular citizens for the simple juxtaposition, he keeps on them, showing you their true problems, and showing you their sacrifice.

All the while, hilarity ensues the corrupt government officials as hijinks after hijinks. The biggest problem being El Hadji's Xala ... he can't get it up for his young third wife.

Truly an interesting, intelligent, and worthwhile cinematic experience. And even if that doesn't seem to to interest you, watch it for the laughter ... there's plenty of it.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

The "Curse"...

Author: Tim Kidner ( from Salisbury, United Kingdom
11 June 2012

Seen any decent Senegalese films recently? Ones from 1974, with French subtitles? If you haven't stopped reading already, then...Xala means "Curse of impotence", which gets placed on a corrupt businessman, when he passes over his older wives for a "new" virgin one.

Though it looks very 1970's, with rather tepid colour and and a somewhat tinny sound, this very good film from Ousmane Sembene is as good as contemporary cinema gets in home-grown Africa. My viewing was for the 2nd time on Film 4, admittedly screened in the small hours.

It's actually an excellent snapshot of many an African country coming to terms with their new-found independence. Native rituals and traditions still run deep, against the new found idealism of political freedom. But, mega corruption amongst Ministers and Officials is rife and the script has savage satire running through it, that could be applicable anywhere. Whilst they bemoan and decry their now departed Colonial forebears, they have become addicted to their Mercedes limos and material excesses and readily abuse their power at will.

Some describe Xala as a sex comedy - comedy is going a bit far but there is pleasure indeed to be found in strong-charactered women, beacons for the future brow-beating their men-folk and the then rather pathetic reactions from them. Take away a powerful man's effectiveness of his penis and he is no longer powerful. That is a broad and slightly inaccurate metaphor, of course, but you can see where this is going.

Xala is pretty long and requires some staying-power but is embellished with some good music and performances. The story overall is a surprisingly universal and approachable one.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Neocolonialism in Xala

Author: kirsten-halling from Dayton, OH
31 May 2011

The beginning scene of Ousmane Sembene's film Xala is a tragicomic metaphor for the euphoria of the African independence movement, which was followed quickly by the installation of puppet governments controlled by ex-colonial powers. Sembene's courageous and open indictment of profiteering African businessmen and politicians is the backdrop for a moral tale of greed, betrayal, and punishment. I found the storyline gripping, never boring, and I even felt compassion for the victim of the xala despite his obvious shortcomings and former cockiness. While the cautionary tale is didactic in the style of fables and traditional African tales, the viewer apprehends the complexities of life in a climate of pervasive corruption. The characters make their way through a melting pot of African traditions, magic realism, animism, and Islam - all peppered with powerful vestiges from Africa's colonial heritage. Each character tries to survive and thrive in his or her own unique way. Xala provides the viewer with a multitude of perspectives, simultaneously condemning those who sell Africa to her highest bidders, while promoting forgiveness and redemption.

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6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Is there no real independence?

Author: Lee Eisenberg ( from Portland, Oregon, USA
1 July 2007

So far in my life, I've only seen two Senegalese movies: "Hyenas" and "Xala". The latter offers a satirical look at corruption.

The plot goes like this: following Senegal's independence from France, a crooked official - he makes sure that France still controls the country's resources - uses the country's money to get married for the third time. That's when poetic justice kicks in; he gets stricken with a curse called "xala", rendering him impotent.

If absolutely nothing else, this movie is a very impressive look at a culture that we in the west rarely get to see (and specifically, we get to hear Wolof spoken). Are the events portrayed cause for cynicism? Hard to say. But I recommend the movie either way.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

By making "Xala", Ousmane Sembène, Senegalese cinema's maestro has created a masterpiece.

Author: FilmCriticLalitRao from Paris, France
26 September 2014

It was in 1963 that seeds of filmmaking were sown in Ousmane Sembène's mind when he finished a short course on cinema in Moscow. For a long time his contribution to the field of art and culture was known through his films. However, it must be noted that his contribution to the field of literature has been equally outstanding. Senegalse film "Xala" is based on one of his own books. Watching this film, one is constantly drawn to the conclusion that justice has been done to both works of art. As a director, Sembène made full use of all minor as well as major incidents described in his book to depict a nation where some corrupt as well as influential politicians are shown to make merry while ignoring the plight of ordinary, poor Senegalese people who find it difficult to come out of 'vicious circle' of poverty. Apart from his scathing assault on rampant corruption which unnerved Senegalese people immediately after their country's independence from France, Sembène directed all his anger at two principal scourges : cultural alienation and economic impotence. Although "Xala" has been classified as a comedy by many film critics, its political message cannot be overlooked. It is the reading of this message which would enable us to comprehend why the fortunes of some African countries were used by their leaders to further their own cause.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

"Remember: What one hand removes, another can put back"

Author: evening1 from United States
16 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Here is an intriguing film about the devastating effects of karma, and, at least from a Western perspective, the dangers of ignoring psychology.

The novel setting for this tale, which features a musical score set to primitive string instruments and chants, is a sun-scorched Dakar in the early days of Senegal's independence from France.

El Hadji, played understatedly yet memorably by Thierno Leye, is a government minister who has bought heavily into European values while paying somewhat less homage to his native roots. He converses in an elegant French, cannot sleep without air-conditioning, drinks two bottles of Evian a day, and throws a lavish party -- to celebrate his polygamous marriage to a young, third wife.

Not only has Hadji misappropriated funds to afford the bash, but his latest wedding has deeply offended his college-student daughter and pretty second wife. Making matters worse, he refuses a virility ritual recommended by his latest mother-in-law.

Karma comes to haunt Hadji in the bedroom, where he cannot perform sexually. In the highly gossipy and intrusive environment of "Xala," everyone in town quickly learns about his difficulties. Finally, Hadji must resort to a visit to a rural medicine man.

While his virility returns, his humility does not -- however, the film's graphic culmination corrects that. This movie seems to reference Tod Browning's classic "Freaks" in that it's a group of disabled social outcasts, a poignant presence throughout the film, that ultimately exacts the protagonist's comeuppance.

How IMDb can list "Xala" as a comedy is somewhat of a mystery. Yet, in the classical sense, our hero does seem eventually to be forced into some insight, and that's for the best. But you will not find yuks here.

For anyone interested in cross-cultural studies, and the messiness of colonialism's aftermath, "Xala" will be absorbing.

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Fascinating AND poor at the same time.

Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
7 November 2013

I love international films and have already seen many African films, so my not being in love with "Xala" has nothing to do with its roots. The bottom line is that while the story is very interesting, the story is so incredibly slow and poorly constructed that it loses much of its punch. It's really a shame, as basic story idea is great.

The film begins with a cute scene where the white colonial powers are replaced by black ones--and you see that there really is no change. Instead of a white kleptocracy*, there is now a black one--either way, the people of a fledgling African republic are screwed. The main character in the rest of the film is Mr. Hadji. Hadji is a minister in the new government and is going to celebrate his new wealth by marrying for the 3rd time--even though, as it turns out, he is over-stretching his finances. Sure, he IS rich by African standards but the money soon disappears--leaving him not only metaphorically impotent but literally so! This is a great metaphor for hypocrisy and greed in post-colonial Africa.

So why wasn't I bowled over by the film? Well, the biggest problem was the pacing. While the film runs over two hours, it could easily have been done in 75 minutes and the leaden pace is a serious problem. Additionally, the film, as it's captioned now, is a seriously flawed picture as the captions are, at times, almost impossible to read. White captions don't work well here and too many times I struggled to read them. Overall, an interesting curio from a historical sense, but a film that would be very difficult viewing for the average person.

*A kleptocracy is a government typified by rampant corruption and stealing and the good of the people is irrelevant.

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My first Senegalese film

Author: mykelb from United States
31 March 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'd read the book, and in my interest to learn Wolof, I checked out this film.

It's rare that the director and the author of the original book are the same person. That's the case here, I think.

The film really packs a wallop. Funny, poignant, it's a kind of African BLUE ANGEL with equal parts Jean-Luc Godard and a touch of Freaks: Funny, tragic, disgusting, and political. (Much of the politics are about internalized colonialism.) "You have a right to speak. But speak in French. You can curse and insult each other, but you must curse and insult IN FRENCH." It is a bit long. I recommend seeing it in two sittings. The obvious low budget sets are a bit distracting, but, in a way, they help give a poverty feel to the movie.

The acting varies. The first wife is incredible. You can see her anger and her dignity. The businessmen are a little on the weak side. Too much "ok, move your hands in denial now," "okay, nod like you agree." The ending was a surprise and a bit of a disappointment. (The lead actor must've spent months watching Emil Jannings.) But, to me, the ending seemed cut. Implying tragedy, but not showing the results. I got the feeling it was somehow shortened... as if there were more, that New Yorker Video did not want to present to the public. Also, the sub-titles were sparse, especially in the Wolof sections.

Still, it's a fine movie, and certainly worth a couple of evenings.

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