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Banel & Adama

The opening image of this movie, out of focus, seems to be of the sun, or a sun, appearing to undulate within the frame. The directorial debut of French-Senegalese filmmaker Ramata-Toulaye Sy, this is one of those pictures to which the phrase “every frame a painting” might apply. Light itself seems to be a character in the film. But despite the beauty that light often imparts to the frame, whether crystal clear or diffused by swirling sand, it’s not an entirely benevolent character.

The movie takes place in a rural Senegal village where the light is unremitting and merciless. Everyone in the movie is waiting for rain that doesn’t come, and the light punishes the livestock. Drought comes, and in its wake, famine. It’s hard just to live.

And, of course, it’s hard for love to thrive in such an environment, not just because of the physical demands but because of customs and traditions. Banel (Khady Mane) is a young woman fiercely in love with Adama (Mamadou Diallo), a fellow whose personality is rather more tentative than you’d expect from a guy in line to be a tribal leader.

Banel is a woman of substantial determination. In shots that skirt the edges of rationality, we see and hear her taming the “angry and agitated” voices that dog her in daily life. Her village doesn’t please her; she and Adama dream of a new home, not far away in an urban area, as is common in many movie narratives in rural settings, but in houses that they are digging up from a nearby village that had been wiped out in a sandstorm. On a sheet of paper, she writes her and Adama’s names over and over. During religious instructions, she discusses learning the Quran by heart. She becomes an ace with a slingshot, killing a bird with it. Despite Adama’s potential role as a tribal leader, one character insists, “Here, no man stands out from the others.”

With a steady editing rhythm, Sy chronicles this complicated love and the sufferings of the village at large. It’s not a movie with any sharp dramatic turns. As the famine intensifies, there are harrowing images of dead cattle practically bleached by the sun. Throughout all this, Banel maintains her own arguably selfish focus, near the end practically accusing Adama: “You promised to dig to the very last grain of sand.” This evocative movie’s final images, again demonstrating that nature tells our stories for us at times, demonstrate that even promises kept can be ultimately ineffectual. 

Glenn Kenny

Glenn Kenny was the chief film critic of Premiere magazine for almost half of its existence. He has written for a host of other publications and resides in Brooklyn. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.

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Film Credits

Banel & Adama movie poster

Banel & Adama (2024)

87 minutes


Khady Mane as Banel

Mamadou Diallo as Adama

Binta Racine Sy as Adama’s Mother

Moussa Sow as Racine

Ndiabel Diallo as Coudy

Oumar Samba Dia as Abou Dia



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