Clouds over Conakry

By Cheick Fantamady Camara

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Set to a rap tune, the credits introduce us to an aerial vew of Conakry but end on a shot of the sea: it certainly is in the city that we are plunged but also in sentiment, if not sexuality because the film then starts with the image of a naked couple on a bed. The hardhitting image foreshadows a freedom of tone that the film won’t ever lose: it’s the hypocrisies and manipulations of all sorts that Cheick Fantamady Camara intends to expose. First of all, those that hold the youth hostage to reactionary restrictions; then, those that make religion a tool of regression on the family level but also a tool of power by supporting the Imam’s prayer, supposed to provoke rain forecast by the weather channel; lastly, those that allow politicians to freeze society instead of making it evolve. In other words, Camara fires in all directions. But his attacks remain subtle and this is the great quality of this popular film, likely to appeal to a large audience (honored with the RFI Public Award at the 2007 Fespaco). Entangled in sentimental or family stories fit for a soap opera, his characters retain a happy complexity avoiding all stereotypes and therefore leaving the door open for a new reflection.
Clouds over Conakry is not inscribed in the tradition-modernity opposition in which people continue to confine African cinemas without noticing the evolution in their set of themes. Young Bangali, fondly called Bibi by the two women fighting over him, suffers from but doesn’t refuse tradition. He listens closely to the oracle revealed by cowries by a friend on the beach and doesn’t know how to say no to his imam father who forces him to succeed him: « you can refuse a gift but not a destiny ». Besides, his father is also not opposed to his ancestors’ fetishism and gladly mixes both beliefs.
Therefore, Bangali is not a rebel, then, despite the impertinence of his caricatures published in the daily paper L’Horizon. He is caught up in a malaise that he doesn’t know how to control, stuck between his desire to assert himself and the father’s desire, which confers on his character a universality likely to appeal to everyone. Like his sister who hides to go out clubbing and puts her headscarf back on when she comes home, he is unable to tell his father about his relationship with the beautiful Kesso. In turn, the potential Miss Guinea doesn’t know how to tell him she’s pregnant. It’s from these secrets and obstacles to communication that Camara’s script draws its misunderstandings and reversals, preserving a permanent dynamic to the film.
No-one refuses the heritage, then, but each tries to negotiate its terms. It’s only when the elders don’t keep their word and trap the youth that the tragedy arises with very heavy consequences. Tempted by a parricidal vengeance, Bangali hesitates over killing his parent but holds back: Camara does not invite us to the murder of the father but to a determined patience, which implies knowing where one wants to go. His film doesn’t tell this youth to push its parents away but to talk to them to make things evolve. Therefore, to know what cause they want to defend. Its freedom of tone is a suggested direction: this over-heated youth forbidden to go to the pool can still resort to the beach, to its insolence as a weapon and its aspiration for freedom of speech as a program. For that matter, we note the effigy of Norbert Zongo, assassinated journalist from Burkina-Faso, on one of the studio’s walls. This asks for courage and Bangali doesn’t lack determination: it’s because he sees things through by taking all the risks that the film is able to close with a happy end despite the tragedy. He’s not the only one: the young women in his film take as many risks and are as determined as him. Their opinion counts and their demands are legitimate. The future society won’t be built without them.
By the choice of gestures, settings, clothes, colours, music (and notably the great Wendel’s, who produced a fusion of African jazz), as much as by the positioning of his characters, Camara keeps reminding us that it is possible to draw from tradition to enrich modernity. The big table only separates the father and his son for the time of a shot, up until Bangali announces that he is ready to give his life for his child: what interests Camara in tradition are the values it conveys, that modernity doesn’t respect.
A script leaving a big place to dialogue that, not without humour leaves a considerable place to sentimental games between Bibi’s two suitors; characters to whom everything happens within the time of a film: all of the ingredients for popular cinema are respected. Cheik Fantamady Camara had accustomed us to more metaphors in his horts and less academicism in the interior scenes. A little more mise en scène wouldn’t have driven the audience away or betrayed the film’s intention. It would have left the door open for more emotion and therefore reinforced the undeniable weight of Clouds over Conakry for the present.

Translated by Céline Dewaele.///Article N° : 5972

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