Dreams of Dust (2006, Laurent Salgues)

A solid movie, somewhat hopeless and dusty and dreary, but nicely told through its visuals and not overly weepy in tone. I give you the oft-quoted official synopsis: “Mocktar, a Nigerien peasant, comes looking for work in Essakane, a dusty gold mine in Northeast Burkina Faso, Africa, where he hopes to forget the past that haunts him. In Essakane, he quickly finds out, the gold rush ended twenty years before, and the inhabitants of this wasteland and strange timelessness manage to exist simply from force of habit. The beautiful Coumba, however, is still courageously struggling to raise her daughter after the death of her family. Mocktar will soon be fighting not only to survive, but also to provide a better future for this mother and her child.”

Opens with a shot of the dusty desert, the mine entrances invisible beneath the dunes, then one by one the miners start appearing from the ground. Closes with the revese of that shot as they go back into the mines. Throughout, when we’re at the entrances to the mines, the camera is always in the same couple of positions, giving a familiarity to the faceless desert. Rasmane Ouedraogo (from Tilai and Moolaadé), recognizable with his short, white beard, is the elder guru miner, who becomes the mine owner at the end when the old owner, a stern but somewhat fair (profit sharing!) fat man, decides to retire, only to be killed for his money on his way out of town. Our hero is kind of a blank, less memorable than the characters and situations around him.

Variety

Salgues’ screenplay is perfectly crafted in the Western tradition, while Crystel Fournier’s striking cinematography connects the film to a broad African vision. Viewers have a lot of time to admire her dazzling desert panoramas, as there is almost no narrative motor to underwrite the visuals. … Mathieu Vanasse and Jean Massicotte’s music track matches the rest of the film in being extremely refined. The French and Canadian post-prod work is top quality. Improbably, all dialogue is in very formal French.

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