Abderrahmane Sissako‘s "Bamako" is a howl of rage and sorrow, a film that imagines the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and similar institutions being brought to trial for their actions against Africa in front of a makeshift tribunal in a courtyard in an quiet section of Mali’s capital city. It’s also profoundly didactic, and while we don’t fault "Bamako"’s message or the passion behind it, we also can’t recommend it as a film.
The origins of the trial are never explained; the judges, lawyers and witnesses assemble in the open air each morning, taking their places at fold-out tables. The witnesses are from all walks of life, and when they are called to the stand they deliver speeches ranging from personal testimonials to political broadsides to an anguished song. Meanwhile, life continues in the courtyard â€” women are hard at work dyeing fabric, someone bathes a child, a gun goes missing, and a couple, Chaka and MelÃ©, approaches the end of their relationship.
The conceit of the trial is unbearably wistful. That there could be a voice and person representing and taking responsibility for the very concept of international finance groups as a whole; that such dialogues could take place, and, further, that they could take place on African terms and on African soil; that all people could come forward to testify â€” this is a situation that could exist only, well, in a movie. And so Sissako uses this structure to give his characters a chance to voice their arguments in undiluted chunks essentially directly to the camera. The smatterings of narrative in the background (including a film some children are watching on TV that briefly takes over the screen â€” a ludicrous Western entitled "Death in Timbuktu" that stars executive producer Danny Glover and Palestinian director Elia Suleiman) are just spoonfuls of sugar to make the messaging go down. Whatever your thoughts of Sissako’s views on globalization (which are not moderate), it’s difficult not to come out feeling pummeled, or at least, lectured to.
Screens October 2 and 3 at Alice Tully Hall, and will receive a theatrical release from New Yorker Films in February 2007.
+ "Bamako" (NYFF)