We feared the worst a story with a village’s sacred well as its main character reeked of déjà-vu, totting up themes that had already been so widely treated in African film way back. And yet, this film is nonetheless topical. Behind the apparently outdated tradition versus modernity problematic looms a treatment that roots it in the present. The position adopted by the character Hamalla, who is forced to leave the village for being illegitimate, but who later returns when he discovers that it is threatened by an epidemic, testifies to a change in the accepted discourses. Pretending to be mad to avoid being rejected again, he subtly works at updating rigid identities and shortsightedness. His attitude is the fruit of reflection on the state of Africa today. His radicalism lies in his determination, not his words. He is like the director an intellectual trained in Moscow who moves away from stigmatisations and ready-made answers to try to understand how Africa can daily avoid falling into the traps of mimetism in the general march towards globalisation, and thereby build an appropriate and lasting development. This village that ends up collectively taking itself in hand reflects a new Africa that is rolling up its sleeves to find its own path in keeping with its means. Progress will not necessarily come via bulldozers but through hard grind and sweat. An outdated discourse? Nothing here suggests a withdrawal into rigid culture. All the characters who move the narrative forward are characters who have left the village only to return enriched by their time elsewhere. But they don’t deny their culture all the same, in all its human and spiritual dimensions. Conscious of its fragility before the onslaught of foreign models, they are determined to continue drawing on the values that convey energy and hope.
There is no doubt that the Malian public will recognise itself in the film. Kabala is typical of the villages just a few kilometres from Bamako. The inhabitants are its actors, their costumes their real clothes. It’s in this proximity and its appeal to people’s responsibility that this film finds its necessity. Whilst spectators might at times find it clumsy, like when the three women carrying water pots cross the field four times, or find its cinematography and its meticulous lighting and frames highly classical, it would be a shame not to remain open to the film’s questioning of development issues.
2002, 112 min, 35 mm, colour, Mandala Prod/Farafina Dambé/CNCP Mali, with Djénéba Koné (Sokona), Modibo Traoré (Hamalla), Fiily Traoré (Sériba), Hamadoun Kassogué (Sibiri), Siaka Diarra (Namory), Sory Ibrahima Koita (Fakourou). Selected for the Critics’ Week, Cannes 2002.///Article N° : 5603