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As recently as Ousmane Sembene's 2004 Moolaadé we saw a sort of African
town meeting: such spirited democratic palavers are a feature of
African local life. In Bamako, also known as The Court, Sisako has
staged a mock trial of the IMF, the World Bank, and the other
international financial institutions run by the rich countries that
have perhaps contributed to the impoverishment and demographic ravaging
of contemporary Africa more than they have helped the continent. This
event takes place in the middle of a big busy square in a section of
the capital of Mali, Bamako.
There is a whole panoply of characters a beautiful queen bee (an example of the grace and poise of African women), Melé (Aissa Maiga) and her husband Chaka (Tiecoura Traore). Melé's a popular singer whose marriage is disintegrating and two of her spirited songs are integrated into the film. People watch TV, and the director ironically injects into his film a "western" set in Timbukto, in which incongruous white men as well as Palestinian director Elia Suleiman and Bamako's producer Danny Glover shoot each other. The effect is grotesque, but that's the point: why should Africans be watching TV westerns? Elsewhere on the earthy "set" of the film there's a young man, also beautiful, who lies dying inside a nearby building with no medical care. There are many children, some playing about, some being breast-fed. A couple marry, and the festivities interrupt the trial. There's a flinty gatekeeper who decides who can come in and who can't. There's a traditional griot who's one of the "witnesses" and who ends the proceedings with a hypnotic chant (not translated, but strangely stirring and stunning). There's another "witness" a former schoolteacher so hopelessly demoralized he refuses to utter a word; a sound recordist; a video photographer who says he prefers to take pictures of the dead because they're more real; and many authentic-looking extras, including a variety of dried-up tough young-old (or ageless) stick-men, all of them coming and going.
You get a vivid sense from all this, which is rhythmically inter-cut with the trial itself, of the harmonious seeming chaos of African village life; the color, the beauty and dignity of the people. You get above all a sense that life goes on. There are two white men on the "stage" of the trial, one an advocate for the international organizations (Roland Rappoport) and the other (William Bourdon) eloquently speaking for the African people and for socialism who concludes that the first world should be sentenced "to community service" "forever." Eloquent though he is, a Malian woman lawyer who speaks after him (Aissata Tall Sall) is more touching.
Like An Inconvenient Truth, Bamako's trial presents facts and arguments of enormous present day importance this time surrounding not global warming and the disintegration of the earth's eco-system, but another set of the planet's major problems: the social imbalances, the domination of the many by the few; poverty and disease, "terrorism" used to excuse world domination, the richest nations' doing harm while seeming to do good; the ravages of globalization, the privatization of natural resources down to land and water, perhaps ultimately to air; the national debts of poor nations collected by the economic organizations of the rich ones, and thereby preventing the poor ones from gaining any ground against the ravages of poverty and underdevelopment. .
This is powerful stuff. Sisako is, in theory, presenting both sides of the story, though it is obviously which side he is on and which side is in the majority on screen. This is polemic. The international organizations obviously aren't overtly setting out to destroy Africa are they? It is preaching; but it is done in a rich and colorful and dramatically moving way. The film picked up a US distributor during the New York Film Festival. It's not clear whether the way the print was presented was accurate. This seemed to be a projection of a digital copy that lost the surface beauty of the original. The colors of Jacques Besse's photography were beautiful, but dimmed. In French and Bambara (the Malian language).
I'm hardly an expert on African economics, or social life, but this
story whose political viewpoint is clearly African does what I think a
movie should: it presents both sides of an issue -- in this case Mali's
financial struggle and whether the World Bank and IMF should be blamed
for the distress of the people.
Through a story that revolves around a court case, we see the stories of struggle of a wide range of people: mother, educator, escapee, unemployed person, and the average guy trying to make ends meet but having a difficult time.
For me, it clarified some of the issues and effects of fairly extreme poverty and lack of government prioritization for social services, health and education. It made the argument that a government may be at fault for selling out the country's future at the expense of developing a stronger base.
The bleakness, however does something bigger, or I hope it does -- I hope it gives strength to continue to fight as the producers, I think, would like.
See this. Africa is an important piece of the world and an important piece of the globalization of the world.
I had no idea what I was getting into when I went to watch this film. I can't tell much without giving away what the movie is all about. I will only say that the "acting" is just perfect, as long as it is not acting. People are mostly activists who actually speak out the truth. The movie is highly symbolic and we have to understand that the director is not trying to be realistic or straightforward. The trial that is taking place in a regular house yard, is surrounded by the everyday lives of the people of Bamako. The result is moving, beautiful and awakening experience. Especially for those who are not very familiar with the situation in Africa and don't know or don't want to know what the West is doing to billions of people around the world in order to maintain our level of useless consumption, it will be an eye opening experience. I absolutely recommend this movie.
Mauritanian director and writer Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako will not
be for everyone and by everyone I mean the majority of both mainstream
American as well as European film-goers. The film is of the kind that
borders on documentary in its approach and general feel; people talk
for long periods about topics that a lot of us will have perhaps read
about here and there in whatever news coverage it's been given in a
respective country but few, unless you're an avid follower of African
politics and the financial state in Africa, will have had as much
exposure to the subject as you get in this film. In general, there are
long and detailed monologues on the subject of Africa's, as a
continent, financial and general situation. It is a piece of work that
teeters between documentation and a sheer, out and out neo-realist
piece set amidst the locals going about their business.
The title: 'Bamako', is loud and proclaimed. The word is a proper noun it is the capital city of Mali, an African country, and that is the tone for the film focusing on a courtroom based discussion regarding the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, a corporation set up to help fund developing or underfunded nations. The topic is straight forward: the reason the state of many African nations are in the state they are. You can imagine it being a very personal subject to many-an African director but Sissako handles it very well and it resonates; the film is not about one nation, despite having the capital of a certain nation as its title, but rather the state of a continent as a whole and the director doesn't focus on individual nations but gives everybody a voice.
The courtroom of the title it has been released as here and there is really nothing more than a patch of sandy land in the middle of an urban area. The officials are all dressed smartly and each of them are both French and Caucasian. It's here I think Sissako places the audience into the bodies of these officials, those that are of a 'Western' origin more than anything and those that must stand and listen to the African villagers state their cases to do with living conditions as well as both quality and amount of facilities they have available to them. It's here we feel as naive as the court officials, perhaps as humbled as they are when people give their statements and accounts some are loud and angry with a woman peeling off all these facts and figures for our benefit whereas others are quieter and more humbling but one such individual cannot say anything at all and this may be the most upsetting for most viewers.
Perhaps there is a certain irony behind the most effective 'statement' being one delivered by someone who doesn't say anything at all, given how the film likes its extended dialogue sequences. But I think that's down to good direction and good writing if anything: the timing of the silence within the piece. Through the statements, we find that the mere area is unhealthy and lacking medicine and places to earn a living, something that should rebound on us when thinking of the bigger picture and how this is one area in Mali we're dealing with, despite the hearing's overall link to the continent.
One cannot talk about the film without mentioning the bizarre manner in which it veers off out of the world it's taken so much time in establishing and into something else. About half way through the film, from memory, we begin watching a film within a film a daft looking Western starring Danny Glover which I suppose acts as the film's anchor around which the theme revolves. The western film is entitled 'Death in Timbuktu', a scathing reminder that 'death' is indeed happening all the time in Timbuktu, a town in Mali, more down to the malnutrition than trigger happy cowboys. It sees American and French actors/characters struggling to deal with their surroundings which is a wired hybrid of the Old West and a typical African village with sandy terrain, huts and everything else. The pit-stop could be seen as a metaphor for Americans, the French and Western economic powers in general struggling to deal with a 'problem' in Africa as lots of really unnecessary deaths keep happening again, in real life it's not death by a bullet as much as it is poor quality conditions.
What I like about Bamako more than, for instance, 'Waking Life' is its approach. We're not being talked down to here and we're not following some daft, trippy sequence of events that shows off what the latest computers are capable of. Instead, we have a real situation being presented to us and arguments established before events developed. This isn't a lecture or a 'talking down to' of the audience, this is reality made by someone who's been there and is producing a film that doubles as a statement. It won't be a film for everyone but the loose narrative to do with a breakup between two people offers us a fitting conclusion, an individual reduced to tears as the emotion floods to the surface as they realise not only their life but the verdict surrounding the hearing is in a purgatory and the only outcomes are two extremes either way.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The film is set in the titular capital of Mali, home to a beautiful
young singer, Mele (Aissa Maiga), and her husband, Chaka (Tiecoura
Traore), who are in the process of splitting up. But while they
function as Bamako's nucleus, the warring couple disappear for huge
swathes of the film, making way, improbably, for a court room set up in
Chaka and Mele's garden.
The court, it transpires, pits the people of Bamako against such international institutions as the International Monetary Fund and the Word Bank, who are charged with bringing Africa to its knees with national debt. To back up their case, the people fall back on a raft of statistics, such as the 50 million African children who are slated to die in the next five years. Meanwhile normal life goes on in Bamako in the shape of women dyeing fabric and Mele and Chaka's embittered squabbling.
Esoteric as it sounds, Bamako brings Africa's plight to life by dint not just of the film's witnesses but some stunning cinematography and an engaging, understated approach that vilifies the West yet never rants and raves.
This film has it's heart in the right place, but unfortunately, it
isn't much of a film. It is more of a documentary under the guise of a
narrative. Bamako is basically a newspaper op-ed piece put on
celluloid. However, your average well-researched op-ed piece is far
more cogent and concise than anything presented here. The filmmaker is
trying to relay to the viewer the hardships of African life, in
particular the country of Mali, due to the unethical practices of the
IMF, G8, and World Bank, by using the setting of a mock trial against
the aforementioned. There is an extra 10 minutes dispersed throughout
the film that makes a half-hearted attempt at a narrative plot, and a
bizarre Hollywood Western-style shootout scene, where the director
seems quite pleased with his own cleverness (hence, the frequent Godard
Of course, as the film begins, what and who is on trial is never explained, but as we know by now, the French refuse to spoon-feed their audience.
There are many impassioned arguments made, but they are often long-winded, delivered in a shrill monotone (one that becomes quite easy to tune out after awhile), and very light on specifics. The last point is the most frustrating of all since there is a very well-reasoned specific case to be made against the institutions on trial here. Unfortunately, all we get in 2 hours is that the IMF and G8 are evil oppressors and should forgive 3rd-World debt. We are given no more than the occasional hint to the specific reasons why the organizations on trial are guilty, but never a clear case. The mock-trial arguments and the footage of the surrounding village makes the suffering of these African residents clear, but one wonders why we must sit through 2 hours of it, when a far more precise picture could be painted in a 20-minute Newsweek article, or Bill Moyers episode. In the end, there is something very important to be said on this issue, it simply isn't presented very well, or very clearly, in this pretentious, indulgent piece.
Bamako is a deeply personal docudrama that illuminates the destitute
conditions of African people living in Mali. The story revolves around
a village mock trial where African citizens are privileged to voice
their political frustrations against a jury of bipartisan judges. Many
of these frustrations deal with major social epidemics that Mali
suffocates from, including: healthcare, education, poverty, national
debt, privatization and disease. In this sense, the story is simple in
its structure, yet the issues discussed by the citizens are vastly
It was rewarding to hear the testimonies of the citizens transcend the illiterate stereotype of Africans. Though the majority of them use powerful rhetoric to emphasize and provide solutions to the problems their country faces, there were two testimonies in particular that really stood out as powerful demonstrations of their impoverishment. The man who is silent and the man who sings; both convey a unique message that represents the same underlying themesocial plagues.
The man who gives a silent testimony is a type of the many who suffer with neglected education. His weary eyes, depressed lips and resonating silence speak louder than any eloquent words could do; as if his body language cries, "I am the consequence of social malnourishment. Please give me the opportunity to be nourished like others." The man who sings in an unknown tongue provides commentary on a sort of meta-political-level. Let me explain what I mean by this.
The entire film is very verbose; it is not aesthetically pleasing for the eye as it is more so just a lot of spoken words for the ear. It requires a lot of mental exertion and contemporary socio-economic knowledge to really understand what these people are talking about. With all of this heavy, didactic conversation and exchange of intonated words, the issues talked about would seem completely arbitrary to someone who was not educated. In fact, the conversation would seem alienlike a jumbling mess of chaotic noises and sounds. The man who sings his testimony also appears alien to those who listen. He is merely personifying the chaos of political jargon he hears through an artistic expression of music. He, too, is plagued by a lack of education; his song enters his listener's hearts on a level that is both metaphysical and political.
Overall, the citizens of Mali hide no pretense from where their problems arise, but link much of their pauperization to corporate corruption in the West. Western ideals and social reforms that are inevitably forced upon their economy make Malians rightfully jaded towards the World Bank, WTO, G8 and other Western influences. The richer countries around the world feed like parasites upon the African economy, pushing them deep into debt, refusing to give financial aid until they conform to the Western ideal of privatization, and ultimately drowning them in a sea of tyranny.
I think the filmmakers choose to shoot this film like a documentary because it adds an objective lens to the reality of what these people actually suffer from. These issues are not fabricated to glamorize some type of Hollywood agenda, but are real-life situations involving real-life people, and they deserve the respect to be listened to in a real court of law. Sadly, however, they are not privileged with such a luxury. With filmmakers who care about their situation, they are able to fabricate the form of a courthouse, yet the content that is exchanged inside is painfully true.
The film intercuts several narrative sketches throughout the mock trial, giving examples of the types of lives the Malians live. One story focuses on the tension created between a father's temptation to leave his wife and child in order to pursue financial stability elsewhere, while another focuses on the overall idle state of the citizens who hopelessly sit around listening to politics through a speaker. The sense of despair in both stories comes in direct consequence of Africa's relationship to the corrupting West. The reason why Africa hurts as much as she does is because of the neglect and maltreatment that larger, dominating countries have subjected her to.
One particular scene that demonstrates Africa's ill-feelings towards the West is shown through the film, Death at Timbuktu. The film shows cowboys come into a foreign town and essentially rape, murder and pillage the people of their goods. Why?because they have the power to do so. This film seemed to suggest the brutality of Western Capitalism. How large, domineering and privatized corporations come into small, submissive and frail countries like Africa and essentially do exactly what the cowboys in the film didexploit and corrupt.
Both filmsBamako and the film inside Bamako, Death at Timbuktuseem to have a slight sense of propaganda behind them in order to awaken the injustices done to Africans, and call for equal treatment, opportunity and overall justice.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Dusk. A robed man walks into town, leading us into the story. From
here, if you haven't read a review, or a synopsis, you will be quite
Bamako is a courtroom drama, shot mostly in the director's old family courtyard with a cast of judges, 'witnesses' including professional lawyers, actors and non-professional locals. Sissako says that he filmed the trial, in which the World bank and the IMF are in the dock, as he would a documentary. Scenes could not be interrupted, even when a wedding party passes through the yard, all four cameras and the sound man were on camera. There was even a 'cameraman', Falai, who makes videos for the police and for weddings. This forms the main body of the film, as witnesses stand up and make their accusations of neo-colonialism, including the rousing, impassioned and eloquent speech made by a lawyer (William Bourdon) against the economic policies of the international financial agencies, one witness who, once on the stand, finds himself unable to put his feelings into words and the elder who sings his evidence, with a timeless voice, the living antecedent of the blues and the call of the muezzin. Sissako gave his witnesses, some of whom had been victims of the 'structural adjustments' of the World Bank and the IMF, a lot of freedom in testifying, accusing or defending, so they were able to put all their genuine feelings into their 'testimonies'.
In parallel to the courtroom, lives are being lived outside: even before we get to court a local singer, the goddess Mele (Aissa Maiga) sings to camera but just as the band kicks in there is a cut to a sick child in bed, her mother unable to afford medicine. Then there are women dying cloth, a plot with a gun, the wedding, Mele's marriage to Chaka (Tiecoura Traore) getting shaky, a little boy (born too late) sadly watching the goddess doing her hair and kids watching TV, where there is a B western, Death in Timbuktu. All these sub-plots were intended to be parables but the western looks most like one - the cowboys shooting down innocents until one of them, Danny Glover, turns on his fellows, one played by Palestinian film director Elia Suleiman. With the multi-ethnic cowboy sequence, Sissako says he wanted to point out that the 'West' isn't solely to blame for Africa's troubles.
The tale is rounded off with another visit to the night-club, where Mele is allowed an entire song, tearfully at first but triumphant in the end. It doesn't wind up in neat Hollywood style, though: even during the final song the camera cuts away to the sober 'reality' of life outside, followed by a piece of drama that seems to sum up both the court-room "J'accuse" polemics and the little parables. Being the wordy film that it is, although its sentiments are right on, it felt at least as long as it was. Perhaps a second look would feel better; such a mixture of justified anger and fragrant warmth is rare. CLIFF HANLEY
The film Bamako acts as a stylish docudrama covering the issue of the
"African debt," along with other political turmoil, and daily Mali life
in a quite brilliant marriage of the two in a storyline of a failing
marriage coming to a close as a heated trial takes place in the
courtyard outside of their home.
Watching the film, we witness a debate between parties over the accumulated debt owed to the World Bank, IMF, and other "foreign aid" and the subjugating and anti-progressive cycle, in which they are now stuck, taking place in a courtyard of Bamako, Mali. The people of the court consist of both actors and actual activists (a style of mixed film-making innovated by Werner Herzog and continually popularized by Harmony Korine). The trial, performed in the traditionally Western means of democracy, takes place in the midst of surviving African tradition and culture. Director Sissako further implements with increased power his argument against the discussed globalization with this reconciliation and at times even presents the hilarity of their coexistence (i.e. - the fact this is in a courtyard and not a courtroom, the elderly man who expects to be heard in his culture without permission to speak by a judge, the toddler's squeaking shoes sounding off throughout eloquent speeches).
One of the most interesting creative decisions of the film-making was the stylish inclusion of a film within the film, an ironic western starring Danny Glover, also a producer of the film, and Palestinian director Elia Suleiman. Here again Sissako makes multiple uses of an item, here with paralleling metaphors of pillaging bad guys as well as humorous parody of non-American westerns (popularized in Cambodia and Thailand (see Tears of the Black Tiger, a homage to Thai westerns in the 1950s), though I am unsure if this is truly a popular genre of Mali). Sissako has also admitted that he chose a multi-ethnic cast for the western in illustrating that it was not solely the West to be blamed for the troubles of Africa. I also see that many of the other users' comments show that they missed the intent of this scene, possibly because they don't expect such leveled humor from primitive Africa (racists!).
As a film geek, I could continue to shower the film in technical praise: the documentary style of filming adding a greater objectivity to the story, the beautiful shots like the man reclining beneath the rusty amplifier, sounding the song of the old man in court, the silent testimony of the schoolteacher, etc. However, I will stay objective in discussion of the film's politics. The film's points are clear. The foreign solution to poverty increased Mali's poverty due to privatization and lost government jobs. The foreign solution to its economic growth has hindered such growth by creating a structure dependent on exports and suffocating it with the accumulating interest of the debt. The sad excuse for a reduction of the debt is laughable as a solution. In other words, the cowboys were shooting aimlessly at nothing.
As a South African, I have just been riveted by this film. It is not an
entertaining film. Thought provoking would be a better description.
Though made a year before, it throws light on what the Bali Conference was all about. The theme of the film - what the first world has done and continues to do to Africa - is of the utmost importance and the device used by the director to get his message across is just appropriate. It's just not possible to describe what you will see - just see it. If you watch it, you must see the interview with the director, for it helps to put the whole extraordinary film into perspective. He trained in Russia you can see the influence of Eisenstein and other Russian directors. I've deliberately not talked much about what you will see. The element of surprise is central to the success of the film.
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