In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_men_women_and_children

Men, Women & Children

A potentially interesting premise is handled so badly that what might have been a provocative drama quickly and irrevocably devolves into the technological equivalent of…

Thumb_5kljgdiaf9qbg0wqbxhfsoemmrz

Time Is Illmatic

An excellent documentary that focuses more on why the Illmatic album came to be than how successful it became. Prepare to be schooled in many…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives

Reviews

Xala

  |  

The white members of the local chamber of commerce have been ordered out of office, and now African businessmen take their places. But one of the whites returns to place attache cases in front of each seat. The Africans open the cases and nod solemnly, impressed by the neat stacks of bribe money inside. The old order has been replaced by the new, but it's business as usual.

So begins "Xala," the newest and most disturbing film by the Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene. His story follows the decline and fall of one of the African businessmen, who sells rice on the black market to finance the addition of a third wife to his family. But in a larger sense, Sembene also is commenting on the failures of African capitalism and on the legacy of corruption inherited from colonial times.

This is new ground for Sembene, who is the best of the handful of African film directors. In such earlier films as "Black Girl," he attacked white racism (his heroine was a Senegalese girl sent as an au pair to Paris and eventually forced to suicide). This time, he looks at a country much like Senegal, and the result is shockingly effective. He indicts a way of life and of doing business - and at the same time exhibits a biting gift for satire. Despite the rather washed-out color photography it's very much worth seeing.

There is, for example, the inevitable humor of the opening scenes, as the harassed middle-aged businessman tries to placate his first and second wives and the shrill, demanding mother of his new bride-to-be. There is Sembene's dry, witty record of a conversation between the first two wives. And when the hapless businessman is impotent on his wedding night and his mother-in-law bursts into the bedroom to harangue him, we're reminded of Bunuel. Sembene is particularly interested in the ways African and European cultures imperfectly coexist in a newly liberated state. The businessman drives a Mercedes and insists on French mineral water, but takes his potency problems to a series of witch doctors. (One of them advises him to approach his wife on all fours while wearing Halloween-style false teeth).

Socialism would work in Senegal, Sembene seems to believe, but not the corrupt economic hybrid he portrays in his film. And he bitterly implies a continuing European influence in the former colony. The white man who brought the briefcases - a slight, sinister little man with a mustache and dark glasses - is constantly at the side of the country's new president, but never says a word. Sembene obviously implies that he doesn't need to.

Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

The Unloved, Part Ten: "The Village"

Part ten in Scout Tafoya's The Unloved series tackles "The Village."

Why my video essay about "All that Jazz" is not on the Criterion blu-ray

Bob Fosse's masterpiece "All That Jazz" jumps back and forth through the past and the present, and through memory and...

Tonight is What It Means To Be Young: "Streets of Fire" at 30

An appreciation of "Streets of Fire" on its 30th anniversary.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus