I recently had a chance to catch up with Abderrahmane Sissako’s mesmerizing film, Bamako. I missed it at Cannes, Toronto, etc. all during 2006. It was released stateside, in February, by New Yorker Films. But it didn’t make it to Austin until last weekend, presented by the Austin Film Society’s AFS@Dobie series.
I’ve been a fan of African Cinema since around my junior year in film school (when I took a class on the subject), so I was eager to see what many have hailed as the best African film of the year. After watching it, I have to say I agree, but the film impacted me in ways much greater than I expected. Bamako is not only one of the most original political films I’ve seen in a long time, it’s also incredibly timely and important.
Set within the Malian capital city of Bamako, the film is a study of community and relationships, but also a seething indictment of globalization and the Western world’s influence in West Africa. The film is a courtroom drama, essentially, but the plaintiffs appears to be the otherwise faceless World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Through the vehicle of a trial, “witnesses” testify about the injustices and contradictions on display. Intertwined in all this, Sissako turns his focus on a couple ending their relationship as well as the townspeople trying to sustain their everyday lives. The way Sissako makes his political points, while keeping true to the human drama, is a triumph of inventive filmmaking. Poetic, disturbing, and often funny, Bamako is a powerful film. But aside from whatever it may do to further argue the importance of African filmmaking as a craft, it also unveils very real and very urgent issues currently facing the continent.
If you live in Austin, try to see the film before Thursday night, when it will likely end its engagement at the Dobie. If you live elsewhere, seek the film out, once it hits DVD or if it plays any theaters in your neighborhood. Don’t miss it.