1971, Senegal, dir. Ousmane Sembene, in Diola and French with English subtitles. A historical film that functions also as a timeless allegory. In his clear, spare style, Sembene depicts the clash between French colonialists and the Diolas, a mystical African tribe, in the closing days of WWII. It is the women who provide the first voice of resistance, and the film conveys their instinctual knowledge of survival as well as a haunting visualization of the myths, rituals and history of this Senegalese tribe.
1977, Senegal, dir. Ousmane Sembene, in Wolof with English subtitles. Perhaps the most important film that Africa has produced to date -- a national epic that bears the same definitive relationship to its culture that Griffith's THE BIRTH OF A NATION, Renoir's LA MARSEILLAISE and Eisenstein's POTEMKIN do to theirs. Set loosely in the Moslem expansion of the 19th century, CEDDO is an exciting political thriller about the kidnapping of a beautiful princess. The "Ceddo"(pronounced "ched-doe") -- or feudal class of common people -- cling desperately to their customs and their fetishistic religion. CEDDO is not strictly a historical film. It ranges far and wide to include philosophy, fantasy, militant politics and a couple of electrifying leaps across the centuries. In this, his most ambitious and remarkable film, Sembene evokes the whole of the African experience.
1939, dir. Max Ophuls, French with English subtitles. Set in the elaborate, dimly lit interiors of turn-of-the-century Vienna, Max Ophuls' legendary LA RONDE is a delightfully witty and intelligent satire on sexual behavior. In ten timeless sketches of illicit love, Ophuls comments definitively on the futility of transitory relationships, wherein the deceiver is inevitably deceived. Stars Simone Signoret, Anton Walbrook and Danielle Darieux.
1950, dir. Jean Renoir, French with English subtitles. In his stinging appraisal of the erotic charades of the French leisure class before World War II, Jean Renoir satirizes the manners and mores of a society near collapse. At a weekend houseparty, the complicated intrigues of the upper-class guests, mirrored by the outrageous activities of the servants, range from farce to tragedy. Voted number two in the 1982 SIGHT AND SOUND poll of the greatest films ever made. With Marcel Dalio and Nora Gregor.
1993, a trenchant comic portrait of contemporary Africa by the great Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene. The story revolves around the mysterious death and even more mysterious disappearance after death of one Pierre Henri Thioune (called Guelwaar, the Noble One), a political activist, philandering patriarch, and pillar of the local Christian community. To the horror of his fellow Christians, it is discovered that Guelwaar's errant corpse was misidentified and mistakenly buried in a Muslim cemetery. This sets off a tempest of bureaucratic red tape, family conflicts, and religious factionalism, culminating in a tense standoff at the disputed grave site. GUELWAAR is many films in one: black comedy, political allegory, social satire, family drama, and, at the end, thunderous indictment of the twin evils of homegrown African corruption and neocolonial Western aid.
1993, dir. Idrissa Ouedraogo. Working in an isolated, impoverished country, Ouedraogo has developed the ability to tell stories of great moral and emotional complexity with fable-like clarity. Set in the austerely beautiful sem-desert plains of the African Sahel region, the film opens with a scene with swift irrevocable violence. At a gas station holdup, one thief is shot. The other escapes. Fugitive Samba Traore returns to his native village after an absence of several years. The good-natured Samba becomes both benefactor and enigma to his neighbors, revitalizing the village through acts of impulsive generosity, finding love & family with a young single mother, and undermining his self-willed paradise with incriminating outbursts of guilt and cowardice. By cloaking the motivations for Samba's crime in mystery and subordinating plot mechanics to rich characterizations and descriptions of village life, Oudreogo invests his simple tale with considerable depth and ambiguity. Is this a story of corruption or redemption?