Yameogo originally wanted to be a journalist. Realizing the political limits of this profession, he shifted to films which he perceived as freer and in each film, he has focused on one issue in particular hoping to play a part in social change. He has always avoided making message films, using humor and a rooting in everyday life to give body to his characters and that is his strength. Delwende, which deals with the thorny issue of women accused of witchcraft was initially a report made for French television news program « Envoyé Spécial » on France 2. Having to adhere to very strict requirements and unable to go as far as he would have liked to, Yameogo decided to direct a fiction inspired by one of these women’s stories.
Such a topic required a particular aesthetic: tackling village habits and beliefs that enable men to chase women away, he has revived the heyday of Western African film. The documentary images of life in the village: women and craftsmen going about their business, the women’s dances, dialogue composed of numerous proverbs*, fixed shots to underline time and the timelessness of customs, the use of walls in the geography of village relationships to underline the categorization imposed by traditional rules, the insistence on movements to reinforce the expression of female determination are reminiscent of the African classics of the 70s and 80s. Some shots recall Yameogo’s first film, Dunia (1987) where, in the fields at lunch time, the men and women’s groups eat separately under the same tree, the men in the foreground and the women in the background: beyond any simple sociologic aim, it is the time of tradition that appears on the screen with the clearness and weight of eternity.
But this is the third millennium: like Sembène in Moolade (with which Delwende could be compared both in its aesthetic and plot structure) Yameogo chooses a tight editing for the first part of the film to get away from a too recognizable style and to root the topicality of his subject. This rhythm slows to introduce the moving documentary part where young Pougbila is looking for her mother in the Delwende or Paspanga shelters in Ouagadougou. Thanks to a camera softly winding among the women endlessly spinning cotton or stopping on some of them for fleeting portraits, the film has a cosmic dimension. The view of these rejected and swarming old women (the Delwende center welcomes 400 women, Paspanga 80) evokes, beyond the scandal of exclusion, an implacable human law that thinks it can team up with gods to project the source of everybody’s misfortune on certain people.
The village is faced with epidemic meningitis. The radio informs the remote lands but only the madman understands and nobody listens to him. Children die everyday: evil is at work. The « diviner’s conception » is founded on the fact that an implacable evil must be named, identified and put back in the community’s symbolic register. All evil has an external origin; in general, a spell cast by a specific person with dark powers. They just have to find who embodies it to defeat it. Delwende therefore calls on the siongho rite where a corpse carried by two young virgin men will show the diviner the person responsible for their death, then the truth potion, a sort of traditional lie detector.
And so a woman is designated and chased away. The young Pougbila does not say die and thus also becomes one of those women who walk which so many films show, starting with Sambizanga (1972), Sarah Maldoror’s masterpiece, where Domingo’s wife’s long walk will be the opportunity to discover another reason to live: the fight for freedom. Wasis Diop’s music and voice have the same depth as in Djibril Diop Mambety’s Hyenas (1993), enveloping this liberating walk and raising it to a cosmic dimension. Contrasting sharply with the chromos continuity of the sunsets that stud the film, the perspective and light chosen for the arrival in Ouagadougou are of a great plastic beauty and one of the film’s moment of grace. To avoid slipping into myth, Yameogo once again calls on the ineffable Abdoulaye Komboudri this time called « Noceur », a slick womanizer himself alone represents urban modernity. But he is also afraid of witchcraft and will let Pougbila down when he learns that the woman she is looking for is accused of being a witch: these beliefs are intense even in areas that are the most detached from traditional customs.
The storm thunders as in the film credits: a new Africa is emerging, which the women’s determination is preparing and that of the young women in particular. They respond to the father’s incantation when he speaks to heaven to understand why there are so many problems: « Men have invented customs, men can change them. » It will be possible thanks to the word, which will shatter taboos: « we must say so ». And, to do so, to stand up and walk! Pougbila’s order that her parents stand up concludes a film though uneven, is self-willed, committed and thrilling.
* To express the fact that every one benefits from the father’s generosity: « the stone takes advantage of the bean to get butter. » On the elders’ wisdom: « A sitting elder sees further than a standing child. » To justify woman’s exclusion: « A hyena cannot be kept in a sheepfold ». Her father to Pougbila when she comes back to the village: « He who lies on his back and spits will get his saliva on his chest ».Translated from French by Sutarni Riesenmey///Article N° : 7068