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There is much to please about this movie. In it people speak without being interrupted, they speak their minds, and they speak in turn. Such is wisdom. It is very refreshing to see dialogue like that. The entire movie is presented with ritual solemnity, and whilst it is perhaps not as ecstatic and encrusted with mysticism and ritual as say a movie by Paradjanov there are certainly images to savour and, what's more, the message is more easily prised from this movie.
My favourite shot is the image of the dead kidnapper being buried in his shooting stance, bow in hand. The death of the kidnapper is immediately followed by a vision of Dior Yacine in which she offers a bowl of water to the kidnapper, and reveals her love. I felt the delight that it must be to slake the thirst of one's lover. We in Europe retain no such tender ritual.
Sembene's criticism of Christianity is less clear. It seems that he associates the priest with the white rifle dealer though the circumstances of this relationship are obscure and both are entirely mute throughout the film. In what is a troublesome scene the white priest has a vision of converting the king's nephew (and heir under traditional, as opposed to Sharia law), who then becomes a bishop and presides at the priest's funeral. Another reviewer had a problem with this scene, and many in the cinema where I saw Ceddo were bemused and a few snickered. The priest's (unfulfilled) wish can be seen as either the arrogance of Christianity, or as a sublime dream. The problem with it is chronological, the scene is meant to be far in the future but Madir Fatim Fall has not aged, nor has the priest. Most would characterise this as amateurish, I simply don't know the feasibility of doing his scene for Sembene who obviously was on a limited budget.
Traditional Wolof ways are not unchallenged. The king Demba War is shown as weak and impotent, whilst the nobles are shown as self-serving fools who sell the country and themselves into ruin. Ceddo therefore can be seen as strongly in support of traditional cultures but also highly critical of both traditional and alternative power structures. It is perhaps the most powerful criticism of Islam available because it comes from the oppressed rather than the oppressor.
Especially odd is the Hunter-Hero, who is often analogous to the cowboy in the American Western film (rides in from the wild, solves the problem, rides off into the wild again) is treated very differently. The Imam is a bit typecast from the beginning. The physical appearance of the actor makes it clear that the Imam will be cast as a villain very early in the film. Finally, the heir never redeems himself, but simply fades out of the scene, returning in the background, but never as a person who affects the plot in any real way.
The only scene in the film that caused me any real concern was the scene where Madior Fatim Fall is sitting in the church. The white priest has what is apparently a vision of the future, with many African priests, and what seems to be the white priest laying in a coffin. It goes so quickly that I wasn't sure what has happening, except the possibility that the priest was seeing a vision of himself as a saint, preserved from corruption, for converting all the Africans. Because it is a rather jarring jump to modern times, by the time I had really recovered from my surprise, the scene was already fading back into original setting.
In a second recent viewing, the RC Missionaries were just as fanatatical, greedy and stupid as I'd recalled. The Muslims were as fanatic, greedy and eager to turn a buck (dinar?) by selling off any Senegalese who disn't - WHAM! - adopt Islam. Buyers were slave-trading Portuguese RCs who hadn't been quite dumb enough to be slaughtered earlier in the flick by the invading Osama-style Muslims.
Henry Louis "Skip" Gates of Harvard may have missed "Ceddo" - but Skip appears to get the point. Maybe. My three kids - Herself and li'l Kobe and MJ - me harder sells. But they're at "that age." Fine: they think I'm at "that age," too. Again, no matter.