Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 15, 2024 3:34 pm 
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Love in a dry climate

Though consciously artificial, this Senegalese tale about a remote, sandy village plagued by drought and wind and a young loving but troubled couple - Banel (Khady Mane), the wife, with cropped hair and a determined air; Adama (Mamadou Diallo), tall, handsome, beautifully dressed even just for minding cattle - makes for a striking, beautiful film, in the tradition yet elegantly original, that whirls us away in a great sand storm as if it was all a dream. Comparisons have been made with Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, and indeed this is the most stylized, poetic filmmaking. It's also Africa, distilled into freely flowing outdoor theater of a striking purity. There are no visions or flashbacks, by the way. Every meeting hovers between symbol and direct token.

As usual in movies about traditional African villages, individuals are part of a tight network of religion, laws, tradition, and inheritance. Adama and Banel have always loved each other, but Banel had to marry someone else, who died. Then they could marry. But a chieftain has perished and by inheritance, Adama must become chief, though he is only nineteen. (When we hear that, and then look into his face, we realize he is, despite his statuesque beauty, very young - and without much experience.). He nonetheless stoutly refuses to become chieftain. He does not want to do it. And he does not do it.

Banel is in revolt too. she says that she works from dawn to dusk every day, but she balks at her formidable mother (Binta Racine Sy) in her urgings that she do laundry, or other household tasks. Later she even declares that she does not want to have children. Though there is nothing modern here, she is non-traditional. And a prologue scene as well as her cropped hair suggest she likes women as well as Adama. She likes to kill birds with a slingshot Who is this woman? That is the beauty of it: we don't know.

Banel and Adama have made a plan to dig out the houses on the edge of the village that are buried in sand and live in one, to be by themselves. Adama goes there sometimes by himself and one day returns to tell Banel as if he has seen a vision that he has found what will be their bedroom, a vast room that gives a great sense of freedom. It's like a dream, a new ideal life in sight.

But it will remain only a dream because a gradual slow plague of heat comes upon them. Adama goes out every day to tend the cattle herd because it is in danger. Some of the cattle have died from the heat. Banel protests that he is never there and she never sees him. To a young woman she cynically describes a woman's life as one long round of duties and all the men as interchangeable. Where is the love gone? Onto the sheets of paper, where she writes "Banel & Adama" over and over like a schoolgirl learning cursive, and she says the words too over and over, like an incantation.

More cattle die. Then all the cattle die. And then men leave because there is no life for them here. Some reviews have felt that Sy fumbles the ending, and indeed it is the buildup that is best. Jessica Kiang wrote sympathetically of Banel & Adama in her Cannes Variety review. "Sy’s film," she says, "is a curious little fable, not quite fully formed in its final stages, and occasionally so sedate and opaque, under Bachar Mar-Khalifé’s melodic, piano-forward score, that it feels like it is drowsing." She also spoke of the images, "Glorying in the impressionistic prettiness of DP Amine Berrada’s camerawork, with its signature images of sun flares and sand dunes." She concludes that desite limitations "it’s a striking debut nonetheless, especially as it revolves, with graceful poetry around the inner experiences of such a curious, unknowable woman." Yes. This is a fresh, fable-like entry in the African cinema of village life. The young, beautiful dirctor (see her shine at the Cannes Q&A) was born in France of Senegalese parents. Northern Senegal, familiar from regular holiday visits, was a palate for her to paint with. She has drawn, among other things, a tale of global warming.

Banel & Adama/Banel e Adama,, 87 mins., Pulaar with English subtitles, debuted in competition at Cannes May 20, 2023, showing also at Munich, Melbourne, London and other international festivals. Rleased in France Aug. 30, 2023, it received an AlloCiné press rating of 3.0 (60%) and spectators' rating of 3.2 (64%). A Kino Lorber release. Screened for this review as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York (Feb. 29-Mar. 10, 2024. Showtimes:
Sunday, March 3 at 1:00pm (Q&A with Ramata-Toulaye Sy)
Wednesday, March 6 at 3:45pm


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