Ousmane Sembène 7 Films – DCP, Blu-ray, DVD
This groundbreaking short film, which won first prize at the 1963 Touris Film Festival in France, was the directorial debut of Ousmane Sembène.
Restored in 2013 by the Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory and Éclair, in association with The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project; INA, Institut National de l’Audiovisuel; and the Sembène Estate. Restoration funded by Doha Film Institute.
Ousmane Sembène, one of the greatest and most groundbreaking filmmakers who ever lived and the most internationally renowned African director of the twentieth century, made his feature debut in 1966 with the brilliant and stirring Black Girl (La noire de . . .). Sembène, who was also an acclaimed novelist in his native Senegal, transforms a deceptively simple plot—about a young Senegalese woman who moves to France to work for a wealthy white couple and finds that life in their small apartment becomes a figurative and literal prison—into a complex, layered critique on the lingering colonialist mindset of a supposedly postcolonial world. Featuring a moving central performance by Mbissine Thérèse Diop, Black Girl is a harrowing human drama as well as a radical political statement—and one of the essential films of the 1960s.
This second feature by Ousmane Sembène was the first movie ever made in the Wolof language—a major step toward the realization of the trailblazing Senegalese filmmaker’s dream of creating a cinema by, about, and for Africans. After jobless Ibrahima Dieng receives a money order for 25,000 francs from a nephew who works in Paris, news of his windfall quickly spreads among his neighbors, who flock to him for loans even as he finds his attempts to cash the order stymied in a maze of bureaucracy, and new troubles rain down on his head. One of Sembène’s most coruscatingly funny and indignant films, Mandabi—an adaptation of a novella by the director himself—is a bitterly ironic depiction of a society scarred by colonialism and plagued by corruption, greed, and poverty.
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Seething with outrage, Ousmane Sembène’s Emitaï envisions both the cruelties of oppression and the revolutionary potential of the oppressed. During World War II, Marshal Pétain’s French forces and their African lackeys comb the Senegalese countryside, conscripting young Diola men into service and attempting to seize rice stores for soldiers back in Europe. Torn between allegiance to their silent gods and fear of fomenting a resistance of their own that might upset them, the tribe’s patriarchal leadership frays; meanwhile, the French humiliate the women of the tribe when they refuse to yield their harvests. With unflinching realism, Sembène explores the strains that colonialism places upon cultural traditions and, in the process, discovers a people’s hidden reserves of rebellion and dignity.
In precolonial Senegal, members of the Ceddo (or “outsiders”) kidnap Princess Dior Yacine (Tabata Ndiaye) after her father (Makhourédia Guèye), the king, pledges loyalty to an ascendant Islamic faction that plans to convert the entire clan to its faith. Attempts to recapture her fail, provoking further division and eventual war between the animistic Ceddo and the fundamentalist Muslims, with Christian missionaries and slave traders from Europe caught in the middle. Yet when the victor prevails, conflict still doesn’t end—and the return of the princess and her still-revered power may very well topple the new order. Banned in Sembène’s native Senegal upon its original release, Ceddo is an ambitious, multilayered epic that explores the combustible interstices among ancient tradition, religious colonization, political opportunism, and individual freedom.
An adaptation of Ousmane Sembène’s own 1973 novel, Xala offers a hilarious, caustic satire of political corruption under an inept patriarchy. On the night of his wedding to a third bride, government official El Hadji Abdoukader Beye (Thierno Leye) is rendered impotent. After suspecting that one of his other wives has placed a curse (xala) on him, and after enlisting a local marabout for a cure, El Hadji must face the possibility that he deserves the infliction for his part in the embezzlement of public funds and for helping to keep Senegal in French hands. When even uglier reasons are revealed behind his loss of manhood, El Hadji endures a final ignominy from a group of disenfranchised citizens that he has conveniently overlooked. Adeptly combining elements from African folklore and popular cinema, Sembène uses Xala to indict the immoral hubris of entitled male authority figures and Senegalese sellouts.
“Guelwaar” is the nickname of Pierre Henri Thioune (Thierno Ndiaye), a political radical and agitator whose criticism of Senegal’s reliance on foreign aid ruffles the feathers of the powers-that-be. His suspicious death is followed by a farcical mix-up when his corpse is mistaken for that of another man and accidentally interred in an Islamic cemetery. Guelwaar’s family, led by Europeanized son Barthelemy (Ndiawar Diop), enlists the local police to unearth and then rebury their paterfamilias on Catholic ground, but Muslim resistance sparks a religious conflict and unleashes long held hostilities among townspeople and within the Thioune clan. At once a tragicomic study of social atomization and a hopeful vision of Pan-African solidarity and independence, Guelwaar is Ousmane Sembène’s masterclass in interweaving complex storylines and merging disparate stylistic tones.