Convened outside the Church (we’re looking at a case of polygamy in a Catholic milieu here), the priest warns the two women and the man whose lives are about to be joined in marriage: « You are called upon to conjugate the following verb: to endure »
The audience is invited to watch a real drama that ultimately leaves the spectator with a deep sense of sadness. Customs and efforts to keep up appearances combine to convince everyone that this explosive alliance is in fact a good thing. But if things are a priori hunky-dory for the man, he is in reality forced to share each of his wives’ frustrations. It’s indeed a severe blow for Elise, the senior wife: « How can you swallow everything when you want to vomit? », she bursts out. And Joséphine, the junior wife, also has to cope with this impossible balancing act.
Teno renews with his scrutinising gaze and that just distance in which he takes a stance through his commentary whilst also managing to remain a spectator and witness to a process that takes place before his very eyes without him having planned it. As in Chef! or Voyage au pays, he grasps passing reality, seizes the chance that makes him a witness, like a reporter knows to turn the camera on when he catches a whiff of a subject.
Being the seasoned militant that he is, he is interested in structures of interest, in socio-economic rules. In western Cameroon, women do not own land and only become joint-owners through marriage. Even, and above all, with polygamy, people do not marry out of love, but to acquire a land title their life insurance. The junior wife modifies the power relationships and gives Alex’s mother back new power when she is called in to arbitrate and govern.
Originating out of a simple invitation to film a friend’s marriage, Teno thereby constructs a veritable indictment of the hypocrisy and of male-female inequality. Out of a simple anecdote set in Bamiléké land, his film thus becomes a fascinating and edifying initiation.
2002, DV, colour, 45 mins, France/Cameroon, 35 mm. Prod. Les Films du Raphia.///Article N° : 5660