Cert 12 Stars 4
This supernatural romantic drama is set in a suburb of modern day Dakar, the capital of Senegal, this is a subtle and powerful tone poem of love, longing and a great deal of social comment.
It offers deep swells of sadness, greed and corruption, but also joy, justice, hope and a statement of intent.
At it’s heart is a quietly compelling performance by Mame Sane as Ada, a young woman engaged to the wealthy and arrogant Omar, it’s a marriage of not of love but of economic necessity.
Meanwhile she’s been having a sweet, tender and chaste relationship with a lowly construction worker called Soulieman, and they make an attractive young couple, with the Atlantic Ocean forming a backdrop to their romance.
When Soulieman and his fellow workers denied three months wages they set off in a fishing boat for Spain.
This is journey is referred to as ‘going to sea’, and the women left behind recognise they probably won’t be seeing these men again, even if they survive the hazardous crossing. ‘He went to sea’ is almost used as a euphemism for dying.
When all hands are lost at sea Ada and her friends start experiencing supernatural events, and Ada becomes involved in a police investigation about a mysterious fire.
This is the directorial debut of French actress turned filmmaker, Mati Diop, for which she became the first black female director to be in contest the the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival.
It’s filmed in a lyrical and economical style, with the low key naturalistic performances supported by great location work.
A fabulous skyscraper rises from the desert like enormous alien structure or a spaceship, a sign of hubris and western decadence. And as it resonates with the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, the story has the historical resonance of migration such as that of the Irish, which sits alongside the contemporary resonance of the global refugee crisis.
It’s a harsh, dry, windswept landscape of bleak beauty, sitting next to the angry Atlantic Ocean, whose crashing waves form part of an eerie haunting soundscape, mixed with impromptu songs of the labourers and chanted wedding hymns.
Filmed with sympathy and understanding from a local point of view, and we see the poverty, massive inequality, misogyny, there’s little crime or violence. Nor is there self-pity or the voicing of political arguments, and any anger is mostly reserved for the bosses.
This wasn’t a film that hugely gripped me while watching it, but I respected its hypnotic rhythms and I kept thinking about it for some time afterwards, with certain passages echoing and repeating in the manner of poetry.
It finishes with a call to arms which says the future belongs to the women of Africa, a bold defiant provocative statement and not one often heard in Hollywood.