“Waiting for Happiness” a 2002 Mauritanian movie directed by Abderrahmane Sissako. The movie has no linear story structure, its a series of shots all ultimately forming some kind of story. There is a student Abdallah (Mohamad Mahmood Ould Mohamed) who has returned from abroad on a holiday perhaps but he is most of time inside his house, not going out, very introverted, not speaking to people, not wearing the traditional dress and not knowing the Hassanya language.
Then there is a father son duo of Maata (Maata Ould Mohamed Abeid) and his son Khatra (Khatra Ould Abder Kader), on whom lot of time in the movie is spent. Maata is an electrician and Khatra is learning the ropes from him. Then there is a mother daughter duo where the mother is playing a string instrument and teaching music to the daughter. The music and singing are both very good.
Abdallah is interested in a local girl who had a kid from somebody and the kid died, but he is unable to form words to speak to the girl. The movie meanders slowly in the harsh desert landscape of the country, not much happening on a daily basis. The film is shot near a coast so there are ample shots of the ocean, perhaps the Atlantic Ocean because Mauritania is on the west coast of Africa. There is also a shot of a train passing through the desert and people scrambling to board the train through the windows.
The direction is quite tight knit despite the lack of a story and so is the camera work and cinematography. The kid Khatra is the star of the film though Maata and Abdallah have also done useful roles. Its a movie without a beginning and without an end.
Moolaade (2004) what a movie of exceptional brilliance by Senegalese writer director Ousmane Sembene. The movie derides the dastardly practice of female genital mutilation practiced in many parts of Africa and builds a beautiful story around it. Moolade means “magical protection” and Colie, the second wife of her husband gives protection to four small kids who come running to her crying about the impending purification. Colie’s daughter Amasatou also did not undergo the forced circumcision seven years previously. The elders of the village including the menfolk gang up against Colie and threaten her with dire consequences. The first wife also comes around to her point of view. Colie’s husband meanwhile returns from his trading trip and on being accosted with the news goes against Colie and whips her in front of the villagers. The radios which the women listen to during their household chores and in the night are confiscated from everybody and put in a junk in the center of the village to be burnt, because the elders feel that radios are corrupting the women of the village by giving them bold ideas. In the meanwhile, Ibrahim who is the son of the village headman returns from Paris laden with goods but is still hesitant to go against his elders despite his foreign upbringing. Ultimately it all ends in a beautiful climax when the entire women of the village go up together and end the brutal practice of female genital mutilation. A powerful movie of much depth, anguish, tragedy, emotions and understanding. An evil practice is beautifully sought to be abolished through a strong story line, solid acting by all the cast members, superb camera work, cinematography, music (by Boncana Naiga). Very difficult to single out any single actor for their performances but Fatomouta Coulibaly as Colie has done a bravura performance. The first wife has also acted very well. The movie is a co-production between Senegal, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Tunisia along with France. It has won a clutch of awards including at Cannes, Marrakech among others.
An Egyptian psycho thriller “Cairo Station” (1958) directed by Youssef Chahine, has the distinct stamp of Alfred Hitchcock in it. Qinawi (Youssef Chahine himself) is a lame newspaper vendor in the sprawling Cairo station terminus. Hannuma (Hind Rostom) is a hawker plying her soft drinks inside the trains. Qinawi has eyes on Hannuma and is smitten by her. Unknown to anybody he has put up posters of scantily clad women in his small quarters somewhere in the railway yard. Hannuma likes another porter in the railway station Abu Siri (Farid Shawqi) who is trying to organise a union of porters and hawkers in order to improve their lives. When Hannuma rejects him, Qinawi goes crazy. There is an unsolved murder in the newspapers, so Qinawi uses the method used in that killing to do his job. The ending has lot of shades of Hitchcock in it, cats, long shadows, the Hitchcockian music, close up shots, use of lighting etc. Superb acting by Youssef Chahine as the sick psycopath lame Qinawi. Hind Rostom has done a good role as the playful Hannuma quite well. This is a black and white film made in the neorealist style that was prevalent at that time. Chahine was a highly recognised film maker in Egypt and worldwide and so was Hind Rostom in Egyptian cinema.
A slick Congolese (Democratic Republic of Congo, erstwhile Zaire) crime thriller (2010) directed by Djo Tunda Wa Munga. In a gasoline short country, Riva (Patsha Bay) smuggles gasoline into Kinshasha, a truck fuel of drums filled with gasoline, enough to make him and his friend rich. But after him are some Angolan ganglords to whom the fuel ostensibly belongs. Riva falls for Nora (Manie Malone) who is the keep of another small time gangster so there is a triumvirate fighting with each with one corrupt military officer (Marlene Longage) involved in fixing up deals of this sort. A lot of shoot outs, killings, money changing hands, sex with whores, sex with Nora it ends in a huge finale. Even the priest of a local church is involved in some corruption. Angolans apparently don’t like the Congolese so the Angolan taunts his Congolese rivals. Riva has a fallout with his parents as well. Patsha Bay and Manie Malone have done good acting and so has the Commandant, Marlene Longage. The dialogues are in a mix of Lingala and French, but thankfully there are English sub titles so that’s good. The direction is good and so is the production values and cinematography especially when there is not much scenery shooting in the movie. Its got a clutch of awards at the Africa Movie Academy Awards.
What a brilliant, moving, gut wrenching, emotional Chadian movie “Abouna” (2002) directed by Mahamet Saleh Haroun. Its a magnificient movie in all its aspects. Two kids Tahir (Ahidjo Mahamat Moussa) and Amine (Hamza Moctar Aguid) wake up one morning in their little home to find that their dad has gone, missing. Distraught, these young kids go emotional. They still don’t know why their father has left and believe that he will come back. Their mom becomes vexed at their escapades but she does’nt realise their emotional anguish behind it and packs them off to a koranic school far far away. The kids are still awash with their feelings towards their father and are not able to adapt to the strict upbringings of the koranic school. Tragic unfolds shortly and much anguish and much depth of sadness follows as also love and happiness. The elder son Tahir meets a beautiful deaf mute girl Le Mere (Zara Haroun) in the school and both of them fall for each other. Everything about this movie is magnificent. The direction, acting by the kids and Zara, story, camera work, cinematography, sound, music (by Ali Farka Toure) has a Malian influence to it, its very beautiful. Chadian language has a middle eastern imprint to it. Both the kids have done a brilliant role as has Zara Haroun as the deaf mute girl. This is one must watch movie, if you are a true music connoisseur. The movie won a FIPRESCI award but was not accepted for nominations at the Oscars, which was such a pity.
Gito L’Ingrat is a Burundian movie made in 1992 by Leonce Nagabo. Gito (Joseph Kumbela) is a Burundian student in Paris and earning by the side some income as well. He has a French girl friend Christine (Marie Bunel). After his graduation he decides to come back to his country with high hopes and plans. Unfortunately he does not get a single job on his return. Meanwhile his childhood sweet heart Aoua Sangare meets up with him. He stays in a hotel in the capital whilst his parents and siblings live in a far away village. Christine decides to land in Burundi unannounced and then the rivalry between two girl friends. Gito is double crossing both of them. Meanwhile Christine wants to meet his parents so they go to his village where she tries to integrate with his family. Nice comedy plus tragedy movie. The entire movie is mostly in French except for some dialogues in the local language when Gito is talking to his parents. There were no sub titles in English but still i could understand this much about the movie. The three characters Joseph Kumbela, Marie Bunel and Aoua Sangare have done good roles. Basically the direction is neat, there are some neo realist shots of the market place and the country side. Burundi and Rwanda were in the news in the mid 90s for the mass genocide taken place there in the fight between Tutsis and Hutus in the region. Burundi being former French colony, everybody speaks in French there, but for their movies to gain global recognition from amongst non French speaking movie buffs world wide, they should provide English sub titles as well.
What a beautiful movie from Burkina Faso, Yaaba (1989) directed by Idrissa Ouedraogo tells a beautiful tale of a friendship between two young boys in a village hamlet and an gnarling wizened old woman Sana (Fatimata Sanga) who has been accused of witchcraft by the villagers and stays away from the village. The two boys, both cousins, Bila (Noufou Ouedraogo) and Nopoko (Roukietou Barry) become fond of Sana whom they called as Yaaba in their language. Its a mud thatched village of little means and no medical comforts to talk about, a tough life in a tough environment. The villagers wear torn clothes and have little by way of occupation. There is constant friction in the village and everything is heaped on Sana. When Nopoko gets injured in a scuffle with other young kids of the village there is no health care centre to go to, so the villagers blame Sana for the calamity yet she offers to cure the kid which they initially refuse and then take it. Idrissa has crafted a masterpiece with his brilliant direction and story line. The cinematography by Mathias Kallin is breathtaking. In the sparse surroundings he has created a beauty. I could not understand a word of the dialogues spoken because there were no English sub titles yet the language is so sweet and soft. Normally i don’t watch a movie if there is no English sub titles in it, but something about this movie enraptured me in the first few scenes itself. For true movie connoisseurs this is a beautiful movie.