1999, Senegal/Switzerland/France, directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty
Despite its ostensibly simple storyline, Djibril Diop Mambéty's final film is in many ways his most far-reaching. Whereas his earlier feature films - Touki-Bouki and Hyènes - are formally daring, with splintered narratives and jarring imagery, here Mambéty adopts a more straightforward narrative structure in order to then posit a radically different vision of Senegal's development and future, independent of the country's ties with the West (and particularly with France), and based on a new kind of social contract. Mambéty is not interested, though, in a dry political argument. His points are made in the context of the warm, humanist tale of a young girl's daily struggles to overcome the multiplicity of obstacles that stand in her way as she attempts to care for herself and her sightless grandmother.
His heroine, Sili, is one of the most engaging characters in any film from Africa, a young girl who simply refuses to be defeated, and whose energy serves an inspiration to those around her, of every social class. In addition to her defiant attitude to her literal and metaphorical handicaps, Sili has a direct honesty that demands to be listened to, and a wisdom that belies her years (a scene where she challenges the authority of a much older policeman, and demands justice for both herself and another unjustly-accused person, upsets hierarchies common in African and Western life). The director isn't simply indulging in late-life romanticism, however: he's deeply aware of the kinds of challenges that lie ahead, but resolute in insisting on an alternative to what the Western world presents as the only way forward for Africa.