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.


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.

“The Law”


Ouedraogo, from Burkina Faso, was a student of Gaston Kabore, director of last week’s Wend Kuuni, and also worked with Ousmane Sembene.

Saga (actor also in Moolaade, Yaaba, Night of Truth) has been away for a couple years, and returns to find that the woman he was promised as a wife is now married to his father. She and Saga are in love and resume their affair, with disastrous results. Saga’s brother is sent to kill him, but allows him to escape, and the illicit lovers go off to Saga’s aunt’s house… but he comes back for his mom’s funeral, exposing himself to the townspeople. The father banishes the brother, who then shoots Saga, oh and the girl’s dad hangs himself for having a part in all this.


Fine story (a darker Ten Canoes?), fine acting, plays at a good pace, not at all as bleak and awful as it sounds from my plot description. Won the Cannes Grand Jury Prize (a step up from the prize Yeelen won three years before), second place to Lynch’s Wild At Heart and beating out Godard, Zhang Yimou and Ken Loach.


Little music. A vocalist sings “Tilai… Tilai” a couple times and that’s it. Long shots, but not distractingly long.

“Claire Denis, the director of the autobiographical film Chocolat, set in colonial West Africa, notes that in Tilai every sentence starts with the name of the person who is addressed, in contrast to what she calls the vacuousness of communication among white colonials.”


Seems from the quotes below like this was a pioneer work for African film in the early 80’s, but today on video it’s not too interesting to me. Pedestrian filmmaking, awful music and a voiceover that doesn’t seem too sure of itself.

To be fair, the music and voiceover are hardly ever around, and what’s left is a simple story of a mute boy who gets adopted by a weaver, befriends a little girl, and finally sees something traumatic (suicide body of older guy who got publically shamed by his young wife) that causes him to start speaking about traumas past (mother who was chased out of town for being a witch because she wouldn’t remarry).

People converse in a casual, disinterested way – guess that’s a cultural thing, since the usual tendency with inexperienced filmmakers/actors is to over-emphasize everything.

Kino says it is “a clever fable demonstrating how traditional values can heal and unify a modern African state.”

American University Library says it “demonstrates how cooperation and caring can overcome bigotry and intolerance.”

Library of African Cinema notes that it was the first prominent feature film produced in Burkina Faso, and a pioneering attempt to “Africanize” film language. Dialog was kept at a minimum, to maximize understanding among different language groups.

Harvard Film Archive: “One of the first films to adapt the measured rhythms of traditional African storytelling, Wend Kuuni recasts a precolonial tale of village life during the Mossi empire into a lyrical cinematic form.”

Cineaste: “Kabore’s work, however, does not merely project a lost paradise, it also has contemporary overtones in its depiction of bold actions by women in defiance of the patriarchal order.”

Buud Yam in 1997 was a sequel, a Wend Kuuni coming-of-age story, which doesn’t seem to be on video.