Fascinating glimpse into African life
David Shaw | Michigan | 08/30/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I'm a little suprised that some of the descriptions of this film call it a "warm comedy", because that's not entirely true. Yes, it does it have its humorous moments, but it is also hard to watch this poor man as he goes through his various schemes trying to do a simple thing like cashing a money order. At almost every turn, there are human vultures waiting to get him, to give him way less money than he deserves for a necklace, to demand a bribe for a teller in a bank, to take a photo and not deliver the goods. We see a society rank with corruption that especially hurts those who are illiterate and/or poor. That said, the style of the film is not maudlin in any way. It is cinematically simple, shot with little technical polish but with a beautifully understated approach to its story and characters. As an American, I was quite entranced by its glimpse into another part of the world that is probably all too familiar to millions of people outside of the West, but revelatory for those of us used to seeing Africa as a backdrop for white characters and storylines."
A stinging satire of life in 1960s Senegal
Yaakov Ben Shalom | 09/28/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Mandabi" provides a window in the life and the daily struggles of ordinarily people in Senegal in the years after gaining independence. And it was a hard life.
"Mandabi" is not really a comedy, except in the sense of a comedy of errors or a very dark comedy. It is the heartbreaking story of Ibrahima, a poor, naive man who thinks he has gotten a break when his nephew sends him a money order from Paris, but . . .
Ibrahima can't cash the money order without an ID card.
He can't get an ID card without a birth certificate.
He can't get a birth certificate because he doesn't know his exact birth information.
He struggles to find a solution to his problem, but his solutions make his problem worse.
Ibrahima can't read and doesn't speak French, so he must rely on Westernized or educated Senegalese to help him. But they take advantage of his naivete and ignorance of the system to rob him of the little money he has. Meanwhile, as word of his new-found fortune spreads around his poor neighborhood, everyone he knows comes asking for money, and it is hard for him to say "no."
The product description says that the film is "about a civilization struggling to recapture its own rich heritage after a century of colonial corruption." This is not really an accurate description of the movie. It is more about the venality, corruption, difficulty, and meanness of life in Senegal in the 1960s.
If there are notable flaws with the movie, they are its pacing and the subtitles. The movie is slow, sometimes very slow. Scenes of action and dialogue are separated by long, ruminative camera shots accompanied by kora music. But a bored viewer can easily fast-forward through those. Also, the subtitles are quite old and done in narrow, white typeface, making them hard to read at times."
Seminal Work of African Cinema
directions | Space Time Foam | 06/12/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the best film and one of the most important by Ousmane Sembene, who was basically Africa's first film maker and still the most influential. Though its been described as a comedy, the symbolism of the money order that the protangonist first sees as a bounty and then an albatross hanging over his neck is the burden of western society at a time when African nations were declaring their independence. Thus the complications he runs into in trying to cash the money order which lead to his eventual downfall could be described as Kafka-esque but have a unique character that fits into local culture and folklore (which would be further explored on Xala, one of his other great films). Given that many films about Africa at the time took on a condescending manner or misunderstood the whole culture entirely, it is fascinating to see the beginnings of self expression and a mouthpiece for the cinema of the people without descending to the didactic propoganda of other left wing cinema."
Classic Critique of Neocolonial Senegal
East Coast Transplant | Southern California | 06/03/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ousmane Sembene, pivotal figure in West African cinema, draws a scathing and ironic portrait of bureaucracy and everyday life in post-independence Dakar, Senegal. He weaves a story of international labor migration (a street sweeper from Senegal in Paris), gender relations in polygyny, the relations between urban and rural relatives, brothers and sisters, and ordinary people with a bloated and corrupt cogernment bureaucracy -- all surrounding the innocent attempt by the street sweeper to send his mother (via his urban uncle in Dakar) a remittance in the form of a money order. Fabulous film: not to be missed!"