Monday, February 12, 2007

Zan Boko

1988, Burkina Faso, directed by Gaston Kaboré

Gaston Kaboré's second feature confronts traditional village in Burkina Faso with the encroaching modernity of the city, juxtaposing quite literally a rural farm compound with the luxury home of a wealthy citizen of the expanding capital city, Ouagadougou. Kaboré is a master of the 'village film' genre, well aware of the clichés of that style of filmmaking, and he cleverly sets the audience up by toying with our expectations of what is to come: the opening sequence implies a 'timeless' African setting, but the Kaboré adds, spaced a few minutes apart, a water pump, a bicycle and, finally, a pick-up truck to underline that this story is absolutely contemporary, and that traditional ways exist in parallel with a new economy.

Thematically, the film is more ambitious than his previous Wênd Kûuni, exploring issues of government corruption and the confrontation of tradition and modernity, but it shares a concern with the fundamental value of human dignity and of broader social justice, without for a moment being anything less than pragmatic about the way of the world. Although the later stages repeat a little too obviously points that have already been made with some subtlety, the film remains a potent indictment of Burkina Faso's political system. The final scenes exemplify in many ways the ideals of the young leader Thomas Sankara, assassinated in October 1987, around the time this film was being made; the abrupt ending of real political debate in the film parallels the leader's untimely death.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States