1998, Mali/Mauritania/France, directed by Abderrahmane Sissako
Barely an hour long, Abderrahmane Sissako's first fiction feature is nonetheless a powerful window on the reality of (rural) African life that also functions as a fascinating commentary on the exile's view of his home. Sissako - an exile many times over who was born in Mauritania, raised in Mali, trained in Russia and who is now resident in France - takes an assignment to tell a story of Africa on the cusp of the millennium (part of a larger project funded by the TV station Arte) and subverts it entirely by illustrating the artificial and irrelevant nature of the transition to the inhabitants of Sokolo, a small town in Mali. In Sokolo, the only thing that signals the change from December 31 to January 1 is a report on the French radio channel RFI, along with reports on the winter weather in Europe.
Sissako's film marks something of a new direction in African film: he is not as obviously concerned by the burden of social responsibility borne by some of his predecessors, although his less didactic approach builds a slow, cumulative critique, while the film, like his subsequent Heremakono, is suffused with a sense of everyday visual poetry that is often mesmerising. He intercuts scenes from the life of the village - including constant attempts to connect with the outside world through an unreliable telephone system, as well as frequent scenes from the local radio station - with voiceovers that give life to his own thoughts, and in particular his concern, as expressed in a letter to his father, whether 'What I'm learning far from you is worth what I'm forgetting of us?' The film captures in amber much of what he worries about losing, and has an immediacy and directness that are quite disarming.