A children’s cartoon, an avant-garde sci-fi spoof, and a surreal courtroom drama are the three most unique films of the C-U African Film Festival. Yet, they all share an underlying crisis – be it that of a village, a country, or the entire continent – and a need for resolution, for some kind of justice.
Kirikou and the Sorceress was the most conventional of the three. It tells the quick, seventy-minute story of Kirikou – a prodigious boy who can talk before he leaves the womb and walk before he’s a day-old. His African village has been decimated by the seductive sorceress Karaba, who destroys all the men that come to challenge her.
Kirikou tries to foil this temptress, darting through the flat, vibrant savanna and forests of a landscape that evokes the paintings of Henri Rousseau. The infantile hero learns that Karaba herself is a victim, suffering deeds done by bad men. In saving her – in making her herself again – Kirikou matures into a man and reunites the village.
Though told with the abstraction of a parable, we do not have to extend ourselves much to think of what an assaulted village – and the hope for the wonder of reconciliation – can mean in the current context of Africa. Further, Kirikou is a savior not in violence, but rather in authenticating it – making it feel at peace and calming its rage.
Opposite to this is Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Les Saignantes – a Cameroonian film set in the dark city nights of 2025. Its excessive fog, redundant score, and DV texture make the film feel like a porno, but its jump cuts, intertitles, and sarcastic attitude make it seem like something more.
An acrobatic, sultry prostitute kills a Cameroonian politician in bed. She gets help from a friend and fellow call girl, both of whom are channeling a kind of feminine spirit known as Mevoungou. In trying to dispose of the body and attending W.I.P.s – Wake for Important Person – they are ensnared by other politicians and conspiring men.
Bekolo summons Godard as he criticizes Cameroon as a nation out of control, as a place of oppression, dominance and paradox. His intertitles ask how one can create art in a place where its elements are censored and stifled. The dystopian, sci-fi trope is one referenced more in speech than imagery and the lame Kung fu of the finale would have been better that way, too.
At the end of the film, Bekolo asks how we cannot get up and do something after seeing his work. But what does he want us to do? To believe in the eroticized violence, to believe that these femme fatales are subversive to the feigns of control and order of a corrupt administration?
Bamako takes place in the titular capital of Mali. A trial is set-up in a modest courtyard. The defendants are the World Bank and the IMF. The plaintiff is the continent of Africa. The charge is obvious: is globalized finance to blame for the chaos of modern Africa? A series of witnesses takes the stand, relating their experiences of life in Mali, of the poverty and desperation of collapsed civil services, of unending foreign debt.
Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, the film drifts around the lives of those in and out of the courtyard – some of who sit and listen or get up and argue, others of whom seem indifferent and unaffected. It tries to express itself in language and image, using the rhetoric of the testimonies and the look of the faces of those in its midst.
Its justice is a condemnation, a demand that something happen, that the North make amends. Yet its conclusion – after the trial has been closed – is more pessimistic, as life resumes for the Malians. There is no savior, nor superpower, only a kind of melancholy for a fantasy ended.
That fantasy is to heal a crisis, be it in the village, the country, or the continent. It is a dream for justice and these African films – like Hollywood as the “dream factory” – conjure these ideals and project them to the world. Whether these visions can stand out against the hegemony of those with more capital and production may itself, however, be just another fantasy.