305 Great Directors: Abderrahmane Sissako

“I don’t think I go about it with that specific objective, because rather than emphasizing a difference, I think people are the same no matter where they are. And the problem is that they’re not portrayed as being the same. Yes, it’s true that every culture is going to have their own set of issues, but it’s the way in which they’re shown that makes it seem like they’re different.”

Why This Director?
: African cinema needs a rep.

My Last Experience Was…: N/A

What Did I Watch: Bamako and Timbuktu.

Where Does He Fit: Bamako initially seems like its two strands are going to be weaved together like a braid, but they never quite touch, with half the movie being dedicated to non-actors putting the World Bank on trial for crimes against the people of Africa in someone’s backyard that have resulted in the whole continent being underdeveloped and exploited for its resources, while the other half is a deeply humanistic tract focused on a singer in a bar dealing with her marital troubles, as her husband is unemployed. You’re either going to find this unbearable (Aissa Maiga is the only one who can act in the role of the singer, and she has a truly cinematic face) or a deeply fascinating experiment with a deep sense of ballsiness. I would say it is a little of both, but I treasured this as an experience, especially for the cameos from Danny Glover and Elia Suleiman in a spaghetti Western that is…certainly kind of brilliant. Life goes on for these people, and even if the deluge of information becomes white noise after a while, the Brechtian nature of the trial is part of what helps us understand. This is cinematic as hell, a pure fantasy, that is designed to drain our resources. It’s Arabian Nights Volume 2, but rooted in the life of a woman rather than a country.


Timbuktu takes the old elements of a Sissako film (clearly that eight year gap made him think a lot, although I don’t plan to catch up with his anthology work) and stretches them into a new direction, more accessible and a lot more vicious as an attack on the old mores as well, simply by making us sympathize with terrorists…well, I think most of the people who see this movie are going to already be fairly open minded to sympathizing with unusual perspectives, but anyway, the main point is that the slow rhythms here are less aggressive than Bamako shouting in your face about whatever he is righteously angry about. View it like when Alonso went from four identical naturalism works to Jauja’s surrealism. The dry humor that leaked into Bamako still exists, a little, but in corrupted form, something used as a coping mechanism just like that game of football without the ball and the people relaxing in the shade, doing nothing in particular as a way to deal with the men with guns who are imposing arbitrary regulations on them despite not being all that different. Another social justice tract, yes, but Sissako’s are just so aesthetically radical that I do not care.


Most Valuable Asset: Unafraid to take his style to places that are hard for most audiences, especially Europeans, to swallow.
Most Excited For: Waiting for Happiness. Or a new film.

Coming Up Next: Park Chan-wook, genre stylist of the Korean New Wave.


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