Thursday, April 05, 2007


1995, Mali/Burkina Faso/France, directed by Cheick Oumar Sissoko

Like Souleymane Cissé's Yeelen, Guimba uses a historical setting to comment on contemporary misuses of power in Mali (both films are concerned with the later years of Moussa Traoré's rule; he was ousted in a 1991 coup). Like the earlier film, Guimba is a challenging work that can't simply be approached as a straightforward narrative, although the bookends with a griot strolling along the Niger river imply a simple folk tale. Director Cheick Oumar Sissoko blends realism and magic, not to mention high drama and low comedy, and it can occasionally be difficult to keep track of the action: the real and the magical are so thoroughly blended, indeed, that the distinction is almost meaningless.

Like Yeelen - and like Sissoko's subsequent film, La Genèse - this is also a profoundly beautiful film, making wonderful use of the dusty Malian landscapes, and also consciously evoking imagery of the Western film in witty fashion. While the contemporary resonances are clear, it's also an honest attempt to show that the pre-colonial period wasn't simply an idyllic era, and that abuse of power is a universal ill. The depiction of a rotten system is blunt, with a particular insight into the manner in which a régime's worst excesses come at the end, when power is slipping away.

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