This savagely funny satire portrays El Hadji, a prosperous, self-satisfied, politically crooked modern businessman who is struck down by the xala (pronounced "ha-la") - a curse rendering its victim impotent. While he chas... more »es after witch doctors and soothsayers on a frantic, often hilarious search for a cure, his impotence becomes a mirror of the powerlessness of young African nations over dependent on white technology. Unable to consummate his third (polygamous) marriage, and neglecting his business affairs and political activities as he seeks a cure, his social stature is stripped away, leaving him shamed and humiliated. And while humorous, there is a sympathy in his downfall at the hands of others who are even more corrupt than he is. XALA is a moving and comical look at a man caught up in the corruption of his country and the tribulations of a changing society.« less
LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 12/11/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This 1974 gem, by multi-talented filmmaker Ousmane Sembene, is a brutal attack on the enthusiastic appropriation by the Senegalese upper class of French colonialist culture and its dire consequences. Sembene not only wrote and directed the film; he also wrote the novel on which the film was based.
In it, El Hadji, the protagonist, is one of a number of the business and political elite of Dakar (capital of Senegal) who, at the film's opening, accepts a briefcase full of payoff money from the French, presumably to "encourage" continued French business development in the country after Senegal has won its independence. But while spouting homilites attesting to Senegal's independence as a true African state, these members of the elite speak in nothing but French and look down their noses at those who speak Wolof, the native language. Even, in El Hadji's case, his daughter from his first marriage.
He also decries the beggars in the streets, some of whom are disturbingly affected with serious malnutrition and physical conditions like spina bifida, and one of whom, as it turns out, is a relative of El Hadji's. The latter weds his third wife, much younger than he, but is then struck with the eponymous condition of the title, the xala, which is a curse rendering him impotent.
His second wife is furiously jealous of his third. His first wife is more patient. But perhaps the most vituperative of all his enemies are ultimately his "fellow" bribees, who, in one brilliant scene, attack him for his actions that are careless enough to prevent the others in this group from being able to reap more bribes and other corrupt sources of income. He lashes back at them with how tainted they all are, including him, and then suffers the consequences.
The ending of the film is the most brutal of all scenes in the film and will not be revealed here; it's stomach-churning. Along the way, El Hadji visits two different marabouts (Senegalese shamans) in an attempt to rid himself of the xala, and has as well a number of encounters with the various members of his family--wives, sons, daughters.
As noted in another review of this film on this website, Sembene likely saw and absorbed the films of Luis Bunuel; there's a similarity of jet black humor in the tone of the film redolent of the great Spanish filmmaker. Sembene beautifully captures Senegalese culture in all its aspects--from the ultra-snobby rich to the desperate poor, and a couple of layers in-between as well.
This is a great African film; definitely recommended."
John Farr | 08/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Overlooked gem amusingly demonstrates polygamy isn't all it's cracked up to be. It also operates in darker vein as one man benefits from a corrupt government that is then, all too quick to turn against him. By turns hilarious and frightening, Xala is like nothing you've seen."
khense | Los Angeles, CA | 06/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ousmane Sembene is the Godfather of tough love. In "Xala" the likable "everyman" is only human. Finding himself immersed in easy money and asking no questions, he goes for the perks enjoyed by ancestral chieftans, throwing a big celebration to take a third wife two generations younger. However after he is dismissive of a prescribed ritual just prior to the wedding night, "Xala" the curse descends on him like falling dominoes. A love of people combined with mean spirited humor and a strong ending fire this storytelling into a timeless gem."
2.5 stars out of 4
One-Line Film Reviews | Easton, MD | 01/08/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The Bottom Line:
Xala is neither exceptionally well-made nor fast-moving, but for patient viewers it offers some stinging satire about the upper class in fledgling African nations; I can't recommend it to the average movie watcher, but if you like African history it may be worth seeking out for a lower price."
Shaun Anderson | Nottingham/Hereford, England, UK | 12/28/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In the mid 1960's Ousmane Sembene moved from the literary world to the cinematic world. Probably in a hope to disseminate the social purpose of his work to a wider and more accessible audience (the fickle world of film distribution however has generally not been fair to African cinema). "Xala" builds on many of the concerns explored in his first short film "Borom Sarret" and is also based upon his own novel. The authorship of this film is unquestionably Sembene's, and in his documentary style, use of camera and thematic continuity Sembene's status as an auteur is assured. The biting satirical tone of the film however is something of an innovation, with Sembene preferring to use comedy to highlight the absurdities and hypocrisies of neo-colonialism. As well as pointing out that European power continues to rule by proxy in Senegal, Sembene also explores the traditions of his own culture and suggests that a number of fundamental problems lie within these outmoded Senegalese traditions. A rejection of polygamy becomes the cause celebre of the film, and Sembene seems to suggest that with such practices still in existence what real hope does Senegal have in progressing into the modern world. This binary opposition between culture and tradition and modernity becomes the most important issue in the film. However the uncertain conclusion suggests that it is not possible to cherry pick those aspects to retain and those to reject. This is a complex piece of work aided by some impressive photography, however it must be stated that the pace is leaden and its lack of spectacle will probably not endear it to a multiplex Hollywood audience."