Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sango Malo

1990, Camerooon/Burkina Faso/France, directed by Bassek ba Kobhio

Bassek ba Kobhio's first film - from his own novel - is a critique of Cameroon's system of education that contrasts the outmoded approach of a headmaster educated in the traditional French style with the new ideas of a freshly-minted graduate of the teacher training college in Yaoundé. The film's title combines the two men's names, and by the end it's hard to avoid the implication that there's more continuity here than the younger man might like to think; he, too, imposes outside ideas without consulting the local population. The younger Malo's approach is based on the practical education philosophy of the Brazilian Paulo Freire, and he initially seems to be a breath of fresh air, challenging traditional thinking and authorities (it briefly seems as though the film might veer off to become a Cameroonian entry in the 'noble teacher' genre, before the director rights the ship). Ba Kobhio's treatment is even-handed, underlining that such (relatively) radical ideas were far from uniting all students at the training college, while he's careful to emphasize that the sometimes buffoonish headmaster has his redeeming qualities, and that he, too, has had to deal with the weight of local tradition.

Ultimately, the director is more interested in asking difficult questions of all sides in the debate rather than providing simplistic answers, though it's possible to read in the conclusion a sense that he favors a compromise between old and new, where a young teaching student uses a traditional French dictation exercise to spread knowledge of local conditions. That said, there's clearly a hint that some of Malo's ideas about social justice make sense to the faming population once they've had an opportunity to adapt such notions to their actual circumstances - and once they've been able to inject their own voices into the debate.


andyhorbal said...

Gareth, your site is lately become an indispensible resource for anyone who wants to know more about African cinema!

Gareth said...

There's a lot more to come!

Anonymous said...

I'm currently in an African Culture through French Film class, and we are watching Sango Malo. Your site has given me a lot more insight than even my professor has touched on. Thanks!


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