After waiting years to watch this, it was finally pretty disappointing… even if the political/social criticism is on point, the movie felt slow and obvious. Former swimming champ Adam has worked at the same hotel pool for decades, along with buddy David (a miniaturized Danny Glover) and now his son Abdel. Adam pays off a local government dude to keep Adbel out of the civil war – we thought Dry Season took place post-civil war, but apparently this is a new civil war, which ended a few months before the film premiered in Cannes (winning third place to Uncle Boonmee and Of Gods and Men).
Parents and son at home:
A Chinese company buys the hotel, notes that there isn’t enough pool work to justify employment of these three men, so fires David and demotes Adam to gatekeeper. He claims he can’t afford to pay anymore – maybe true, or maybe he is mad about the job situation – so Abdel is quickly drafted and Adam gets his pool job back. All is well for a few days, then Abdel’s previously unseen pregnant girlfriend moves in, the town is evacuated as the rebels advance, and Adam goes off to an army hospital to kidnap his mortally wounded son and give him a river burial.
Adam was the baker from Dry Season, looking convincingly less weathered (or maybe it’s been too long and I’d forgotten what he looked like, because I thought they must be two similar-looking actors). Abdel had small roles in Caché and Indigènes. David was in Grisgris and Haroun’s lesser-known Sexe, gombo et beurre salé, and the chief was in Africa Paradis and a passenger in Night on Earth. The girlfriend Djénéba Koné, a singer who cries a lot, was in Bamako as the sister-in-law of that film’s crying singer.
The film is beautifully shot with strong performances, particularly from the soulful Youssouf Djaoro in the lead role, but his life changing decision… never quite rings true. It does make the second half dramatically powerful and moving, and it even makes sense on a thematic level, but it is hard to believe his character would ever make such a callous choice.