Sort of a slice-of-life movie set on the last day of the century (which is summer in Africa). Has a Bamako-village feel to a few of the scenes. Slight, but a nice movie. Kept returning to the idea that “it’s difficult to contact people; it’s a matter of luck”, with townspeople visiting the post office to use the telephone and try calling others, usually unsuccessfully.

Otherwise, there’s a boy kicking a ball, a pretty girl on bicycle, a guy (who likes the pretty girl) returning to his hometown for new year, this guy’s father writing him a letter (descriptive at times, poetic at others), farmers chasing birds off the crops, and of course, some scenes about radios.

I like how Sissako shows the passage of time with a group of men sitting in chairs in the shade from a building, out in the street… later sitting closer to the building, then right next to it, then standing against the building, and finally (no more shade) picking up their chairs and going home.

I think there were six or eight of these last-day-of-the-century movies done by different directors as part of a Y2K film project. So far, this is the better of the two I’ve seen (vs. Hal Hartley’s Book of Life).

Katy remembers more than me:

“This is an ensemble film, with Dramane, played by Sissako, composing a letter to his father in the village of Sokolo. Dramane lives in Paris but decides to visit his village at the dawning of the new millennium because he misses the life of the village.”

“The film opens in a brightly lit supermarket in Paris, with rows and rows of cheeses. Dramane’s voice over begins there, and we switch to the village which shows people working for their food: drawing water, out in the fields. The colors also change. The brightness remains, but the yellow mud homes and the yellow sand of the village dominates the color palette.”

First movie I’ve seen from Chad. Simple story with few characters told in chronological order and classically shot: so obviously not similar to anything else that’s out right now.

Atim and his grandpa hear on the radio that the civil war criminals have all been pardoned, so grandpa gives Atim the family pistol, and he very simply sets out on a quest across the country to the city, to find and kill the man who shot Atim’s father. Hits town and immediately meets Moussa, an overly friendly kid who gives Atim clothes (I think) and food and a place to stay. Soon finds killer Nassara and fidgets with his gun a lot when no one’s looking. Idly stalks Nassara outside his bakery for a while, refuses free bread, finally agrees to work for him. Why? To get closer to him, to understand how he lives, to get closer to his family and kill them too? More likely, Atim seems like a nice kid and Nassara is a wonderful father figure, so the attraction was mutual.

Atim works the bakery for a while and learns some lessons along the way. Don’t get too familiar with Nassara’s new wife: he’ll beat her. Don’t hang out with Moussa anymore: he’s a thief. Listen to Nassara: he’s been around and knows what’s what… but he also gets hurt, gets drunk, and has his business wrecked by wily competitors. Only human, then.

Atim gets too close, ends up bringing N. home “to get Atim’s family’s permission for N. to adopt him” and sets up the execution in front of his blind grandpa. Pushes N. down and shoots into the air. Really the only way it could end without us hating somebody.

Should we hate somebody? Are we all good at heart? Is revenge a fool’s game? The writer/director’s obviously big into forgiveness, but I can’t tell if he agrees with the post-war amnesty completely. Anyway, it brings up some complicated feelings and ideas, and very well shot and acted. A completely worthy movie. I think I liked it even more than Katy, who initiated our round-trip drive to Nashville to see it.

More: Atim has been beaten by some nasty cops when Moussa first meets him, and later Atim gets his chance and beats one of the same cops down in the street. Justice is served. Another cop walks by slowly, missing a leg, slowly over a bridge, Atim aims his gun, fires. At the cop? Don’t know, it was offscreen. Katy thinks he was aiming away and I think he was aiming for the cop (even though aiming away makes more sense for his generally moral character). Also Katy thinks Atim’s rejection of Moussa on the basis of M’s being a petty thief is ridiculous, since everyone in the city steals to get by, but A. is from a small, very rural town, where he might have been taught otherwise.

Waited too long between seeing and writing, so I’ve lost some textual details. There was a little music, some interesting shots, I think a pretty great film overall.

Oh, we saw a short beforehand, Namibia, Brazil, which had no real point (except to show how pretty Rio can be), but the credits say it’s an excerpt from a longer film so maybe that’s why.

Postcolonial Wednesday, part two. Katy loved it because of the important story it tells, but I didn’t like it because it tells the story in the most predictably hollywood manner possible.

When the Hutus (largest group in Rwanda) decide to kill all the Tutsis (rich group that the colonialists put in charge), hotel manager Don Cheadle saves the day! Calls in all his favors from the Belgians and the UN and other Rwandans to protect his family and hotel guests. Goes pretty well for him (with some thrilling close-calls of course)… manages to save 1,000 people from horrible genocide.

Nick Nolte plays the disempowered UN captain who wants to help but can barely protect his own men since he’s not allowed to shoot. Joe Quinn Phoenix is a journalist who’s sent home with all the other non-UN foreigners halfway through the movie.

A really really good story told in straightforward, cliche hollywood movie format. Maybe I’m being too hard on the thing… it’s clearly a must-see movie because of the subject matter, and it’s well acted and well told… but it’s the kind of movie that doesn’t have to be great because it’s a true story about a great man who saved people from death, and how dare you criticize it? I’m just not the target audience for this… with my twin Joe Dante and Jacques Rivette obsessions, this one wasn’t very exciting. It’s probably better than Last King of Scotland, and definitely better than Amazing Grace and Sometimes In April (other rwandan genocide movie katy watched), which are the other new historical hollywood movies watched recently, so I’m feeling pretty good about this one overall. Maybe a 7/10.

Oscar® nominated Don Cheadle:

Oscar® nominated Sophie Okonedo:

Oscar® nominated Joe Quinn Phoenix (left):

Oscar® nominated Nick Nolte:

Sad Rwandan orphans:

The director is not to be confused with Kevin McDonald of Kids in the Hall, unfortunately. Maybe McDonald could’ve added some humor to the whole thing.

Not a laughing matter, the movie is an untrue story about a loser doctor (young scot James McAvoy) who moves to Uganda so that he won’t have to work at his dad’s practice. After unsuccessfully trying to seduce older doctor Gillian Anderson out in the country, James meets General Idi Amin Dada, new ruler of Uganda, aka a completely badass Forest Whitaker. James is offered a position as Idi Amin’s private physician, and accepts… gets to see how quirky and odd Amin can be, sometimes very likeable, sometimes killing lots of people in horrible ways. James falls for Amin’s third wife Kay (Kerry Washington of Fantastic Four) and has some sex with her before Amin has her killed. Our man barely barely escapes with his life, escaping on a plane when he’s supposed/about to be killed as well.

Story is pretty straightforward, told from James’s eyes with some drifting short-attention-span camera work. A pretty okay movie with a single towering performance, then, just as the Oscars would have you believe.

Black Book (2006, Paul Verhoeven)
Nice, twisty little nazi suspense drama. Watched on the plane, a little drowsy, so IMDB will help remember the plot details: “When the hiding place of the beautiful Jewish singer Rachel Steinn is destroyed by a stray bomb, she decides with a group of other Jews to cross the Biesbosch to the already liberated south of the Netherlands. However, their boat is intercepted by a German patrol and all the refugees are massacred. Only Rachel survives. She joins the resistance, and under the alias Ellis de Vries manages to get friendly with the German SS officer Müntze. He is very taken with her and offers her a job. Meanwhile, the resistance devise a plan to free a group of imprisoned resistance fighters with Ellis’ help. The plan is betrayed and fails miserably. Both the Resistance and the Germans blame her. She goes into hiding once more, with Müntze in tow. Together they wait for the war to end. Liberation does not bring Ellis freedom; not even when she manages to expose the real traitor. ‘Every survivor is guilty in some way.'” Edit April ’07: saw again in theaters – a real interesting movie. I definitely like it, glad Verhoeven is directing his talents away from stuff like The Hollow Man these days. Awesome final shot, with Rachel living in Israel, having moved from one besieged state to another. I don’t think Jimmy or George liked it much.

Jackass Number Two (2006, Jeff Tremaine)
Watched in the plane right after Black Book, when everyone around us was going to sleep. KLM didn’t censor it as far as I know. Completely awesome, hilarious movie. A masterpiece in its own way. Katy says I laughed too much/loud and annoyed my fellow passengers. Most other people watched that Kevin Costner movie with Ashton Kutcher for some reason.

Badlands (1973, Terrence Malick)
After a few days at the World Social Forum, finally one evening Katy and I were both awake enough to sit through a movie. I suggested Badlands, which we both ended up enjoying. Sheen kills Spacek’s father (Warren Oates) and they go on a little shooting spree before getting captured. Another quiet and beautiful movie by Terrence Malick. EDIT: JUNE 2007: after reading a great Adrian Martin article in Rouge, I realized that Malick is the only director I’ve seen whose EVERY film I would consider great… Charles Laughton excepted.

My Migrant Soul (2004, Yasmine Kabir)
On the last day at the Forum, I found the movie tent. Watched this half hour doc about a guy from Bangladesh who got a job in Malaysia in order to send money home to his family. But the guy who sends him gives him a forged passport, and he gets hard work for short periods of time, then sits idle the rest of his weeks, unable to find other work or complain to anyone without a legitimate ID, finally gets sick and dies. Sad.

Words on Water (2003, Sanjay Kak)
They’re building dams in India that destroy small towns, I guess. I fell asleep in the first ten minutes, then left the movie to wander the Forum and listen to the drumming, so I can’t tell you much more than that. Got back just before the credits when some protestors from the village are being arrested. Sad.

7 Islands and a Metro (2006, Madhusree Dutta)
I was drowsy and it didn’t make a strong impression. Some overlong shots (because the longer you hold a shot, the artsier it becomes) and some disconnected stories about Mumbai/Bombay. The director came out and said the movie reflects how people from all over got together to form this big city, and now the city is splintering into smaller communities again, without a firm focus or center (which of course reminded me of Atlanta), and told many stories of displacement, of trying to make a home in an overcrowded metropolis. I was disappointed that so many of the stories were made-up, and some of the actors were really overdoing it, as if in a soap opera. Decent enough movie I guess. Sad.

Early in the Morning (2006, Gahité Fofana)
The next day we went to the Alliance Francaise, checked out an excellent photo exhibit and saw some free movies. This one retells the true story about two kids from Mali who froze to death in the landing gear of a plane to Europe, having written a letter to Europe’s heads of state explaining that they’ve got it bad in Guinea and need some help. A well done movie, underplayed, not sensationalistic, quietly calling attention to the country’s problems without setting up some overbearing horror of war. The kids don’t even experience the war firsthand, so we don’t see it either, just hear about it in a single scene. Sad.

Bamako (2006, Abderrahmane Sissako)
Next up at the French Alliance was this awesome movie, which we wanted to see all week and surprisingly made it out to. Good thing the Alliance was walking distance from our hotel. A (mock?) trial is being held in the center of town and broadcast on the radio, with the people of Africa (Mali in particular) versus the European powers (the IMF and World Bank). A plea for debt forgiveness, for Africa to maintain its identity and stop to think how it wants to deal with foreign countries without getting exploited. Meanwhile small-town life carries on around the trial, the central story being about a family with a husband who can’t work, a wife who sings at a nightclub and their sick child. Wonderfully and humorously shot, with strange collisions of culture and a much talked-about bit where a TV movie starring Danny Glover suddenly takes over the screen. Must see again.

Garden State (2004, Zach Braff)
Katy watched on our last night in Nairobi, after the safari. I was just listening to the dialogue and music, and finally watched the second half with her. It’s an easy movie to make fun of after the fact, but while it’s playing, it’s very convincing.

Fighting Elegy (1966, Seijun Suzuki)
An action/comedy from Suzuki! Extreeeeme sexual tension leads Kiroku (lead actor from Tattooed Life) to join a fight club, and finally form his own gang and have huge fights with other groups of kids. IMDB guy says “a satire of the militaristic attitude that eventually lead Japan into WWII”. Wonderful. Watched this and 39 Steps on the portable DVD player on the flight home.

The 39 Steps (1935, Alfred Hitchcock)
Watched twice in a row, the second time with commentary. Robert Donat, a very capable leading man, gets caught up in a plot to smuggle government defense secrets out of the country when a woman he meets at a show is murdered in his apartment. He runs all over, never believed or trusted, Hitchcock’s original “wrong man”, predicting North By Northwest in structure and the final theater scene of the Man Who Knew Too Much remake during the great ending when, about to be captured again, he shouts to Mr. Memory onstage “what are the 39 steps”, revealing the plot to everyone. Very easy to watch… one of the better Hitchcocks I’ve seen, even if completely unbelievable.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)
For some reason, I thought about this one during the whole safari. Is it the boar’s head that Royal rehangs on the wall? I don’t know, but I was itching to see this again, and watched it as soon as we got home. One of my favorite movies ever.

The Lion King (1994, Allers & Minkoff)
Of course we thought about this one too, and watched it the next night. Didn’t finish it, though. Best not to.

Great picture quality on my downloaded copy, but forgot it had no subtitles. Movie seemed to show statues and masks in a museum setting, then as part of daily life, and finally in a large storeroom in a government building. Half an hour long.


Harvard Film Archive, or someone they’ve quoted, says: “This collaborative film, banned for more than a decade by French censors as an attack on French colonialism (and now available only in shortened form), is a deeply felt study of African art and the decline it underwent as a result of its contact with Western civilization. Marker’s characteristically witty and thoughtful commentary is combined with images of a stark formal beauty in this passionate outcry against the fate of an art that was once integral to communal life but became debased as it fell victim to the demands of another culture.”

Chris Marker wrote the commentary, not a bit of which I understood. Actually I got the word “mask” a few times. Don’t think this will help Katy’s research any, but she graciously watched it with me anyway.


The whole point of keeping a film journal is to write about these movies right after I see ’em, to preserve details, remember plot points, since I’m so quick to forget things like that. Moolaade is the kind of movie I feel comfortable waiting three weeks to write about, since I’m not about to forget any of the details. Maybe so memorable since I talked about it with Katy afterward or since we watched it in two parts spanning a week, but I think just cuz it’s a simply told and visually exciting and completely unique and memorable movie on its own.


Collé is the middle of three wives, I believe, and has had what we’ll call “the surgery”. Sex is unpleasant, as it should be. Four girls run away from the pre-surgical ceremony and ask her for protection, and she offers it. As long as they stay in her household and she doesn’t utter the phrase to break the spell, nobody can touch these kids. The villagers throw every kind of intimidation at her… husband whips her in public, it is promised that Collé’s daughter (who has also avoided the surgery) will never marry (untrue, as the guy she was promised to marry is a well traveled man, liberated from local superstition), Collé is personally threatened, all women’s radios are stolen and destroyed, and eventually the merchant is murdered. One of the girls is captured and dies in surgery, but Collé saves three, and celebrates with their mothers at the end.


All customs and beliefs in town are passed down through the ages with apparently little outside influence until the merchant and Collé’s daughter’s man and the radios start threatening the status quo with talk of modernity and primitive feminism… then the red-cloaked enforcers and village elders start cracking down and insisting on compliance with The Old Ways. It provokes an advancement of human rights, but a loss of (admittedly repressive) tradition and local custom. Funny how in movies, radio is almost always a good thing and television almost always bad.

Great movie – a shock after watching Black Girl first. Don’t know why I thought they’d be stylistically similar (since from the same director) although there’s forty years between them.

Cute fable about a crippled girl (with blind mom) who wants to sell newspapers. Gang of boys makes throat-slitting gestures at her, shoves her off pier and steals her crutch, but never sells any papers themselves. Very good looking movie. Katy had seen it before.

Girl Who Sold The Sun