Friday, March 02, 2007

Keïta! L'héritage du griot

1995, Burkina Faso, directed by Dani Kouyaté

The key dilemma at the heart of director Dani Kouyaté's first feature - a theme that recurs in many films from Africa - is the confrontation between tradition and modernity; here he explores more specifically how the two notions manifest themselves in the education of a young boy, torn between the obligations of his standard schooling and the beguiling tales spun by his family's griot, who travels from the country to the city to tell young Mabo the legend from which his name is derived. It's a clever idea that also allows the director to stage several sections from that legend, the Sundjata epic that recounts the adventures of Sundjata Keita, founder of the Mali Empire in the 13th century; Kouyaté solves the problems of staging mythical epics on a shoestring creatively and often very humorously.

The griot himself is played by Kouyaté's own father Sotigui Kouyaté with great charisma, and there's a powerful sense in which father and son are engaged in their own process of transmission of shared heritage. Like other Burkinabè filmmakers, particularly Gaston Kaboré, they are also interested in the ways in which the past can shed light on the present and future, and the path navigated by Mabo, whose Western-style education is complemented by a strong awareness of his roots, is notably optimistic in resolving the tradition/modernity confrontation.

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