Waiting For Happiness (2002, Abderrahmane Sissako)

Technology of choice for this movie is electric light (was the telephone in Life On Earth and microphone/loudspeaker in Bamako). Of course there are radios prominent in all three.


BBC website:

Waiting for Happiness is a film about exile and displacement, based to some extent on Sissako’s own life experiences. Yet what makes it so remarkable is the way in which the director translates the psychological aspect of these issues to screen.

Having left Mauritania to study film in Russia, Waiting For Happiness seems to be Sissako’s therapy for his own time spent in exile. He describes his work as “…a portrait of people in departure, who have to a certain extent already left, without having actually yet moved.”


Another portrait of a town, like Life On Earth, but poetically far beyond that one. An east asian man sings English karaoke songs and wanders on the beach… a man (Abdallah) returned from another country wears different clothes from everyone else, doesn’t speak the language and tries not-too-hard to fit in… a boy tries to learn an elder electrician’s trade while a girl about his age is learning to be a singer… and on the beach, a man drowns and his death is investigated.

Visually, lot of people looking through windows, some looking through cameras. Static shots of static people who pause before moving offscreen, or sometimes leave the scene silently during a cutaway. The pace never lags and there’s always something interesting going on, even when the characters themselves aren’t too interested.


New Yorker Films: “Set in Mauritania, in northwest Africa, Waiting for Happiness is Mr. Sissako’s nod to a small hamlet’s ability – no, its need – to greet encroaching advancement with a shrug; eventually, the little place will be overtaken by the currents of modernity anyway.”

If this one didn’t cement A. Sissako as one of the best current African filmmakers, I’m sure Bamako did/will. New Yorker suggests that “Mr. Sissako is also using the movie as a way of dealing with the possibility that he’s being hailed as Africa’s next big thing. It’s a momentous responsibility to shoulder, and like Abdallah, the director is still in the process of establishing who he is.” If that’s true then maybe Bamako was Sissako’s way of accepting that responsibility, and using his status to create something of political importance, since he knew he had everyone’s attention.


This is the second African film this week for which I’ve read reviews comparing it to Claire Denis’s Beau Travail. Slant Magazine says the movie shows the people of this city struggling against foreign cultural invasion. “The old man walks into the desert with a light bulb in his hand. He dies and the bulb gradually lights up: a devastating transference of power between a spirit and the outside culture that sucks on its marrow.”

The same cinematographer shot the other two Sissako movies I’ve seen, along with Little Girl Who Sold The Sun, and a somewhat acclaimed 2004 movie from Angola. All actors were non-professional except for the Asian guy.


IMDB says it won two awards at Cannes, grossed almost two thousand dollars theatrically in the U.S., and they recommend the similar films Exils (Tony Gatlif), The Intruder (Claire Denis) and Lethal Weapon 2 (Richard Donner).

Sissako also made a 1998 documentary in Angola (it played the New York African Film Fest this year), a 30-min short for television, and a “medium-length feature” called October in 1993 when he lived in Russia, which is available on the British DVD of Waiting for Happiness. There’s one film that predates October called Le Jeu, a short about kids playing at war that hardly anyone online has mentioned (thanks Village Voice).


Sissako: “Aime C├ęsaire has been a support for me most of my life. He is the author that I read and reread. But another very important author to me was Frantz Fanon. The introduction of Black Skin, White Masks is very close to this new film [Life On Earth].”