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On the seacoast of Mauritania, some wait to go to Europe. Khatra, a spirited boy, wants an electric light so he can read at night. A stoic older man, Maata, tries to wire the room. Abdallah, a youth on his way to Europe, says good-bye to his mother. Nana looks back on the death of her daughter and her trip to Europe to inform the father. A girl takes singing lessons. Rooms have small windows, looking out onto foot traffic; transistor radios provide some link beyond. Huge ships anchor in the distance. The train comes through, stopping briefly. Offering a cigarette is a gesture of hospitality. Sand dunes and the ocean dominate the landscape. Hope springs amidst small expectations.Written by
A bleak and interesting film but it doesn't go anywhere and it goes there pretty slowly
In this film's rather drifting narrative we join several characters including Adalah, a young man who doesn't fit in with his society and tends to read alone a lot and Khatra, a young boy in the care of an old man who uses him as an assistant when he works as an electrician. Their stories unfold with a pace that would make a glacier think that perhaps he should put the breaks on a little himself so as to keep up his reputation. Very little happens and it happens very slowly; some of it doesn't seem to be going anywhere while other bits of it seem to go somewhere but never anywhere that would suggest that it was a narrative that was driving it.
If this sounds a problem then that is because I felt that it was. I'd like to pretend that I am some arty type and that the drifting air to a film doesn't bother me but it did here because I felt I was missing something and perhaps I was. Not knowing anything of import about Mauritania I struggled to find a meaning or metaphor below the surface simply because I won't have been able to read it even if it was obvious to others. Without this it does still serve as an insight into the community where progress sits uneasily beside the daily grind of tradition and, although this isn't that well laid out, it does still provide some reason for keeping watching.
In some films improvisation is a good thing and has worked well but here it contributes to the feeling of a snapshot rather than a story. That said, the cast of almost all non-actors perform well and produce some natural and interesting performances. Mohamed's Adalah could have really done with more lines to flesh out his character because, try as he might, he doesn't make much of an impression. Kader is much better as Khatra, he makes an interesting character and is utterly convincing and enjoyable. The support cast have plenty of natural performances although they provide more of a sense of a community rather than interesting individuals. Sissako's direction is good and the film looks good the bleak look matching the quiet and lowkey material and characters.
Overall this is a very slow film that goes nowhere and goes there pretty slowly. Without a knowledge of the country I cannot really comment on whether subtexts and such are present or if they work but it is still an interesting look at the community. The story is almost absent apart from small turns but if you can cope with the emptiness and rather bleak beauty of it then it is worth seeing just don't expect a great deal from it.
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