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Bamako. Melé is a bar singer, her husband Chaka is out of work and the couple is on the verge of breaking up... In the courtyard of the house they share with other families, a trial court has been set up. African civil society spokesmen have taken proceedings against the World Bank and the IMF whom they blame for Africa's woes... Amidst the pleas and the testimonies, life goes on in the courtyard. Chaka does not seem to be concerned by this novel Africa's desire to fight for its rights...Written by
During the inset "Death in Timbuktu" "western," just before the first gunshot, a car can be seen moving between two buildings in the background. This, however, could be interpreted as intentional by the director, who was parodying non-Western interpretations of a "western" (other countries who partake in a love of westerns are Thailand and Cambodia). The child in this scene is also wearing a Nike shirt. The effect is to present the sort of low-budget, pulp film one might see in a television broadcast in Mali, while supplying a metaphor to the actual movie's plot. See more »
Intriguing and humbling without ever coming across as melodramatic.
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.
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