Monday, May 13, 2013


2012, France/Senegal, directed by Alain Gomis (aka Tey)

Gorgeous to look at, Alain Gomis's film is an elliptical, occasionally confusing take on how one man spends one day of his life -- his last, as the opening sequences inform us, though there's no clear reason for this, simply an accepted-by-all interaction between the worlds of the spirit and physical reality.

The central character is played by the American actor Saul Williams, who barely speaks, presumably because he's not adept at the languages of Senegal, and yet his near-mute progress through the day is very effective, giving the sense of a man drinking in every sensation for the final time rather than getting in the way with his own commentary, while Williams finds other ways to communicate his emotions. His face in the early sequences, where his character is alternately celebrated and lambasted, is quite remarkable, morphing from a prideful glow to abject humiliation; later, he transmits a kind of exhausted, brittle happiness that's deeply affecting.

The film's most remarkable scene is a sequence where Williams's body is ceremonially "washed," a preview of what will happen following his death. His body is manipulated and arranged in practiced gestures by Thierno Ndiaye Doss (in his last role; one of his first screen appearances was as Guelwaar in Sembène's eponymous film). It's a hypnotic sequence, reminiscent of the scenes in Claude Sautet's Un Coeur en hiver that feature Daniel Auteuil repairing violins -- skilled craftsmen absolutely sure of each movement.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States