Friday, December 18, 2009

Bal poussière

1988, Côte d'Ivoire, directed by Henri Duparc

While African filmmaking has generally been dominated by "art" filmmakers, at least up until the emergence of Nigerian video films, there was a brief flowering of more commercially-minded cinema in Africa in the late 1980s: Bal poussière and the 1987 La Vie est belle were probably the biggest hits in so far as reliable measurements can be made. Bal poussière deals with the many of the same themes as more (self-) consciously serious African films: the interactions and clashes of tradition and modernity, the relationships between urban and rural life, and the difficulties presented by institutions such as polygamy.

The treatment, though, is radically different: not only is Duparc's camera more mobile than that of most African filmmakers, channeling the lessons of successful American and French directors, but his film is fast-moving and filled with quickly-drawn characters. There's also a persistent vein of humour that punctuates the pretensions of the pompous, with the audience well aware of the characters' malapropisms and attempts to impress others with half-digested knowledge (one man, a teacher no less, has en entirely misguided understanding of vitamins, while the central character, Demi-Dieu, knows only enough about wine to get himself in trouble). Duparc, who died in 2006, directed a significant number of features by African standards, but his directorial style hasn't tended to be valued by the gatekeepers of the cultural and ideological project of African cinema, which is a shame: there's much to be said for a diversity of expression, not least that it may help to reach a wider audience.

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