Bamako (movie)

Did you hear about this film that is named after Mali’s capital Bamako and takes place in a court yard of this city? Well, I had heard about it and now I finally managed to see it, thanks to Blockbuster Online. It is a very interesting film. The film’s main languages are French and Bambara, but the DVD includes English subtitles.

The product description on Amazon summarizes it well:

An extraordinary trial is taking place in a residential courtyard in Bamako, the capital city of Mali. African citizens have taken proceedings against such international financial institutions as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whom civil society blames for perpetuating Africa’s debt crisis, at the heart of so many of the continent’s woes. As numerous trial witnesses (schoolteachers, farmers, writers, etc.) air bracing indictments against the global economic machinery that haunts them, life in the courtyard presses forward. Melé, a lounge singer, and her unemployed husband Chaka are on the verge of breaking up; a security guard’s gun goes missing; a young man lies ill; a wedding procession passes through; and women keep everything rolling – dyeing fabric, minding children, spinning cotton, and speaking their minds.

It is the court yard where the filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako grew up. The film basically includes three stories lines woven into each other – the trial, the everyday life in the court yard and the television movie “Death in Timbuktu”. They seem to be completely independent from each other and still are happening in the same place. It makes me think of two transparencies being laid on top of each other.

Sometimes it seems as if they don’t even notice each other: The court carries on, while a teenager passes between judges and audience, carrying a child back and force, women come to the central water faucet and noisily fill their buckets right next to the court audience, the singer demands her little brother to close the back of her dress standing in between two rows of the audience, etc.

Then there are times when they do acknowledge each other: The court pauses when a wedding accompanied by the loud and throaty praise song of a griotte (female praise singer) comes into the court yard; there are megaphones outside the court yard, so other people can listen, but when they want to talk among themselves, they switch off the megaphone; several people seem to listen but then there is no indication in their faces.

Included on the DVD is an interview with Gita Sen (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era). She beautifully underlines that this coexistence is part of the message of the film: The policies of international institutions and the economic system of the West since the time of the slave trade negatively affect life in Africa. At the same time people carry on with their lives as if nothing has happened, and it is the women who bear the brunt of the load.

It is a movie that needs to be watched several times.

A Questionable Gift

On a recent flight a Malian discovered that his seat was next to a female traveler. He was very delighted and considered it a blessing to sit next to a woman. He explained the importance of women with a Mande proverb: “When somebody gives you a woman (or wife), he gives you a whole neighborhood (or town district, quartier, fr).” Knowing how many African women are forced to bear more children than is good for their health, I remarked “Let's hope that she is not worn out before she finished producing the neighborhood.” To which he replied, “But that is her calling in life, to be worn out, to suffer.”
I could not have agreed less, but realized that we have very different world views.