I actually saw this film here in NYC about 4 years ago… other than the soundtrack, which I really dug, the film initially didn’t really hook me.
I wanted to like it. Although I didn’t hate it either. I definitely appreciated the ambition, and the fact that it was unlike much of what I’d seen in contemporary West African cinema at the time, but it still lagged in terms of key aspects like production values, and overall flow, which only distracted from what was a wholly original, and intriguing narrative.
However, since then, I’ve been looking planning for another opportunity to see the Cameroonian film, years after my initial viewing, to see how my older, much more informed (cinematically) self (especially when it comes to contemporary continental African cinema) reacts to it after a second viewing.
In short, the film (billed as sci-fi, although it’s more of a genre-busting trip) is about 2 high-class prostitutes, who also happen to be lesbians (they call themselves “Les Saignantes,” or “The Bleeders” or “The Bloodettes“) in the year 2025, who use their sexuality to gain access to some of the highest ranking political officials in Cameroon, supposedly with the intent to rid the country of those corrupt men who have run Cameroon for decades, creating this dystopian society as presented in the film.
It’s a heavily stylized flick, so visually, there’s a bit to chew on. It’s, in essence, a criticism of rampant corruption in Cameroon, and the idea that women are the gender that will save and revive the country from its depression – a theme that’s common in a lot of African cinema, notably films by the late Ousmane Sembene and Desire Ecare, 2 of the more internationally recognizable African filmmakers, and both male, by the way.
Les Saignantes is directed by Jean-Pierre Bekolo, also a man. And the film continues a *trend* of sorts, in sub-saharan African cinema that features women as the key protagonists, portrayed as progressive, enlightened, as well as the higher moral and intellectual authority. Men are frequently framed in more unattractive portrayals – often as corrupt, sexist, stubborn or simpletons.
So, some might be turned off by that. However, there is some truth behind what might seem like dramatic exaggerations.
Unfortunately, it’s not available on home video in the USA; but I did find it on AfricaFilmLibrary.com which lists the film as a streaming or downloadble rental. So if you’re curious, you can watch it THERE. It’s worth a look!
Before that (or after) check out this new interview with the director, courtesy of Smart Money TV, in which they revisit Les Saignantes, specifically. Bekolo talks about his motivations for the making of the film, its visual aesthetics, why science fiction allows you to ask the “what if” questions, how the protagonists’ sexuality allows him to discuss all the institutions, their use of their bodies as weapons, and more.
Watch, listen and learn below; first watch the film’s trailer, and then the interview follows underneath, as well as the poster: