Les saignantes (The Bloodletters)

By Jean-Pierre Bekolo

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At first glance, one might well wonder if Les saignantes is a pedantic fantasy or if it really carries meaning. But, looking closer, its originality explodes. Beyond appearances, Les saignantes isn’t the result of an imagery that can be reproduced endlessly, whose mercantile intentions the video clip and advertizing reveal. On the contrary, this astonishing, provocative, impertinent, fun and perfectly paranoiac film develops a real poetry using codes that can be recognized by the very enthusiasts of imagery: young people. Poetry because it is a rewriting of it, not only in its aesthetics but in the way it renews and reconstructs Africa’s image and more precisely that of the African city.
Majolie and Chouchou (!) , the two Bloodletters who wield sex and death galore, are not only superb because they are done up in skin-tight, short clothes like professional seductresses. There is more to them than their physique: each encounter is a choreography, each adventure a synergy, each gaze an exchange. They form a hellish pair that manages to control its destiny. This supposes a strength that they draw from the mevungu.
In Cameroon, the mevungu is a purifying and refreshing ritual for Beti women who protect themselves by confessing to their thefts and adultery. A secret association forbidden to men but tolerated by them, the mevungu unites the society of women around a moral commitment. The leader of the association must possess a strong evu, gland of magic and clairvoyance that each woman develops deep in her womb when she is « alert ». This entity of ambiguous power, a mix of witchcraft and clairvoyance, is represented by a prominent female genitalia that play a role in the final part of the ceremonies.
In Les saignantes, the mevungu is regularly evoked by a discrete feminine voice over. While Bekolo readily develops the ritual in its mise en scène, including in the sexual games invented by these Bloodiest, he explicitly refers only to the entity of power passed on by the female keepers. Only the moon is visible on screen when « the mevungu invites itself ». In the year 2025, Yaoundé lives only at night and the mevungu invites to « join the dance ». Majolie offers her body to a dignitary to win a deal, but the man passes away under the beautiful rider’s cavalcades à la Zingaro. How to get rid of such an incriminating body? By cutting it up into pieces. But in this country, it is unthinkable to bypass the funeral ceremony of such a key figure: a corrupt morgue official stitches a body back to the head supplied by the two go-betweens. Apart from the widow, no-one notices and anyhow, everyone makes do with it. The funeral is the opportunity for the two Bloodiest to approach the minister played by Emile Abossolo for a new affair, but the latter turns out to be a harder nut to crack…
There is a touch of Takeshi Kitano in Bekolo’s work: a scathing burlesque under cold lights to scoff at death. He boldly clockes ellipses with nerve and systematically fragments the shots to dictate a rhythm, slows down or makes the image jerky, breaks or alternates the narrative, summons the ambivalence of half-naked bodies that never stop shimmying or dancing, invents lighting to lace the shady nights with colors bright as stained-glass windows, follows the lines and provokes perspectives, to the point of stuffing the spectator who dares not ask for more… The screen is like an abstract painting, closer to comics than to reality. Yet, it is the latter he reinvents, the reality of the night in Yaoundé, of the corruption and resourcefulness, where women take revenge on men to try to define themselves a future.
Nothing is easy for the bloodletters, starting with the trade of their bodies, but they manage to take the law into their own hands in the spot-light colored clearing. Pistol, red blouse, car and karate: the genres are called upon, from the detective to science fiction, but asides point out their impossibility. « How to make a science fiction film in a country that has no future? How to make a detective film in a country where you can’t hold an inquiry? » So, even if the subject is the country, it is cinema too because without art, there are no dreams and without utopia, no way to imagine the future. But how to make a genre film in a cinematography that is itself defined as a genre? Yet, it is precisely this that would make it possible to connect with a globalized public who integrates the prevailing aesthetic models. The Bloodiest is inscribed in this effort dear to Bekolo to redefine a cinema that is both African and contemporary. Quartier Mozart was a first rupture and Aristotle’s Plot defined it (cf. our interview about this film). In Les saignantes above all, like in Caro&Jeunet’s work but without the same arsenal, the strange is a new norm, strangeness a new bible, the album a new aesthetic, the unconscious the obliged companion and desire the diesel engine. This would seem like a hotchpotch if it didn’t draw its consistency from the tragic reality of a torn continent. The film isn’t off-beat: reality is.
It is in this context that Majolie and Chouchou liberate themselves to exist. They carry an evu in them that burns them so much that it becomes dangerous but makes them believe in the power of dance and dreams. Utopia will be needed to escape from the still-living beast, that of the country that calls to mind Bretch’s in Arturo Ui, the wound still being so fertile from all the contemporary horrors. 2025 is not to be taken literally: while it is clear that the film aims to open a door for a future, it is the product of our new century. If it multiplies repetitions, signs and effects, it is to muster up what can be seen as the expression of a rupture, a sort of highly fabricated formalistic fireworks, half-comic half-manga, undeniably beautiful, where integrity is no longer to be looked for in the humanity it gives off but in the determination it offers.

Translated by Céline Dewaele.///Article N° : 6642

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