Firstly, the “Ceddo” are the outsider townspeople. Took me half the movie to figure that one out. The town is converting to muslim, and the local imam is becoming more powerful than the king. A small group of traditionalist men kidnap the princess to protest the forced religious conversion. Meanwhile, a white christian missionary is looking for followers but is not doing so well.

While the king and imam disagree over how to proceed and the imam’s men plot to overthrow the throne, three younger men – the king’s potential successors and the princess’s potential husbands, depending which rules you follow – aim to rescue the princess, bringing guns to a bow-and-arrow party. Biram is kind of a compromise choice between mirror-wearing king-loyalist Saxewar and committed muslim Fall, but Biram is easily killed by an arrow. Saxewar goes next, dies stabbed through the throat by the kidnapper. Fall becomes suspicious of the imam and renounces his position, and finally the imam carries through his threat of deposing the king (who dies offscreen) and has the lead kidnapper killed, freeing the princess. She marches right back into town, grabs a rifle and blows away the imam herself. Damn, Sembene was good with endings.


Much of the story revolves around slavery. A white trader is in town accepting slaves in exchange for wine and guns, so Ceddo are trading members of their own families for guns to fight the muslims. One reason people are converting to islam in the first place is because law prohibits children who are born muslim to become slaves, so if young adults convert, they might still become slaves but their children will be born free. The christian missionary has no such promise, and at most manages to collect one follower, or at least a curious onlooker to the white man’s sermon. This leads to a wonderful dream sequence, a large modern (as opposed to the no-specific-year historical period of the rest of the film) crowd is gathered as this new guy reads a memorial service for the white priest, seen in a coffin… dreams of a successor, unfulfilled, as the christian is killed unceremoniously later in the movie.


Watched this from a very good print with strong color rented from recently-folded New Yorker Films – we were warned that this may be the last screening of this particular film for a long time. This was made two years after Xala – seems that this is the turning-point film for me in Sembene’s career, since I’ve enjoyed this one and everything after it (Guelwaar, Faat Kiné, Moolaadé) more than everything before it (Xala, Emitai, Black Girl). Can’t put my finger on why I like the later ones more… better color, stronger characters, easier-to-follow narratives? I don’t know why I like movies, but this one was damn amazing. We’ll see how unseen early film Mandabi and late Camp de Thiaroye hold up.

The princess appeared 20+ years later in Faat Kiné, and Prince Biram played an interpreter in Coup de torchon

We were always looking for the camera’s reflection in Saxewar’s mirror:

From the valuable article by J. Leahy at Senses of Cinema:

Sembène goes so far as to articulate something completely ignored in the discourse of the male protagonists of the village’s internal war: the desire of this strong, silent, beautiful young woman. This is revealed in what I read as a subjective flashforward to a possible future, similar to that of the priest. It is characteristic of the complexity of Sembène’s analysis of the interaction between the individual, history and traditional practice that this shows her married to her kidnapper and finding happiness in the role of a traditional wife serving her husband. Others have read this as flashback to their first encounter. Even if this is so, the moment remains equally evocative in terms of the possibilities it suggests.

Sembene’s third-to-final film, the one before Faat Kiné. His usual feminism is in effect here, but it’s mostly pushed to the background because he has more pressing issues to worry about.

Guelwaar (Thierno Ndiaye, below, also in Karmen Gei) has just died when the movie begins but we meet him in flashback. He has been killed because of his outspoken political beliefs, that it is better for a person or a nation to live poor than to accept handouts. He and his family are Catholic, and when his expatriate son Barthelemy goes to retrieve the body for the funeral, he finds that there has been a mix-up and Guelwaar was buried in a Muslim cemetery. A cop somewhat-assists, but when he finds out Bart lives in France he suggests that Bart appeal to his ambassador instead of asking the local police for help.


Meanwhile at Guelwaar’s house, the funeral party drags on longer than anyone had anticipated. His widow Nogoy, younger crippled son Aloys, and prostitute daughter (the prime breadwinner of the family) socialize with the guests (who include the daughter’s coworker, actress who played Rama in Xala). When word gets out about the fate of Guelwaar’s body, the Catholic priest and Muslim imam have a showdown, each craving peace but backed by an angry and armed mob of their people. The Muslims only back down when a government man (on whom they depend for food) drives up and convinces them of their burial error. Guelwaar is returned to the Catholics for his funeral, Bart has a newfound patriotism, and on the way out, the Catholics, in solidarity with Guelwaar’s climactic flashback speech (and as an outlet for their pent-up rage) destroy the shipment of food headed for the Muslim town in a passing wagon.


Interesting that Guelwaar defends the fact that his family lives off the daughter’s prostitution trade, over his wife’s protests. At least it is work, he argues, and they are not relying on handouts from others. This scene cuts down his noble martyr status by a couple notches. Nobody’s perfect. Also I like that the imam (above) is portrayed as a good man who listens to reason and tries to sway his angry followers to do the same. The only group that is portrayed as irredeemable is the corrupt government officials who silence Guelwaar’s voice that decries the handout system, since they skim a large share from foreign aid money before distributing it to their people, and they’d like to keep it that way.

A bright-looking city movie about a single family, nice contrast to the dull-colored medium-shot rural Emitai. Rapid escalation of Sembene’s feminist filmmaking that would lead to the glorious Moolaade. Kine at first seems too harsh and rough to be a likeable lead, but after hearing her story and experiencing her kids’ party and meeting her ex-husband, she looks very much like a hero and deserves the happy ending she gets. Cool movie – I’d watch it again.

S. Gadjigo:

Faat Kine is a chic, sexy, and “liberated” woman. She is a forty-year-old single mother, born at the same time as Senegalese independence. From her humble beginning as a gas-station attendant constantly being harassed by male customers, Faat Kine has climbed a ladder reserved for men to become a successful station manager of a multinational oil company. She is financially in control, well-connected in the business world, and adept at manipulating the banking system. Le Credit Lyonnais keeps no secrets from her. When she needs it, she can afford boy-toys. She owns a car and a stylish villa littered with posters of Sembene’s revolutionary icons. She has adopted all the fetishes of the moyenne bourgeoisie, including telecommunication knickknacks, modern appliances, and, best of all, a servant who draws her a warm bath when she comes home from work.

The double success of her children is yet another achievement for Faat Kine, one which stirs memories of her own youth in 1981, “when Sanghor left and handed power to Abdou Diouf.” So, Sembene’s pendulum swings back to the time when Faat Kine was twenty, in her last year of secondary school, just months before her final exam. She had dreamed of becoming a lawyer. But this was not to be. Immaturity, perhaps, and weak social and educational safeguards conspired against her. She was instead seduced by Gaye, her philosophy professor, and left alone pregnant.

The foolishness of the past exacts its brutal price, Sembene reminds us, in the crippled form of Mammy who lives on in the present with Faat Kine, Aby, and Djib. She is Kine’s mother and another of Sembene’s pillars of strength. For once she was expelled from school, Faat Kine’s only protection at home came from her loving but powerless mother. When Kine’s conservative father wanted to kill both his daughter and her newborn, it was Mammy who shielded the children with her body from her husband’s vicious blows.

Crippled Mammy, ambitious Faat Kine, the fatherless Aby: Three generations of women, who have only each other for support in a world shaped by feudal and neo-colonial values, hold the keys to Sembene’s moral. At first to survive, then to succeed, Faat Kine entered a world forbidden to women. By breaking taboos, she unabashedly took control of her life. She faced the world, was rewarded with a degree of financial independence, and moved steadily toward the center of Dakar’s middle-class. What does it mean then, when Sembene lets the pendulum loose once more? Faat Kine becomes pregnant and is abandoned again. Her lover strips her of her savings and their son Djib of his paternity. Apparently, one lesson Kine has yet to learn is that independence can never be a gift. It is hard won.

California Newsreel:

In a film permeated by commercial transactions, Faat Kine exemplifies a model of economic self-reliance tempered with charity; she frugally refuses to take bank loans at usurious rates or accept foreign currencies in clear contrast with African nations’ growing indebtedness to Western banks and lending agencies.

Yet Faat Kine may have become so accustomed to relating to people through money her children fear she has cut herself off from deeper emotional attachments. In Djibril Diop Mambety’s Hyenas, for example, Linguère Ramatou, another businesswoman scorned by male society, retaliates by bribing a village to kill her dishonorable former lover in exchange for an international line of credit. Here, in contrast, Faat Kine decides to marry her male counterpart, Uncle Jean, a widower and businessman who has raised three children on his own.

This will finally be a marriage between equals as the unexpected last shot indicates. Held for a disquietingly long time, it shows only Faat Kine’s feet curled in pleasure. In contrast, to pornography where the woman’s body is fully exposed for the man’s pleasure, here we see only Faat Kine’s anticipated satisfaction. In fact, the audience could be seen as being placed in the unaccustomed position of the provider of that pleasure. This seems like an appropriate ending to a film which, after all, has been a tribute to women who for to long have had to do everything for themselves.

I won’t be very good with details on this one – I was struggling to stay awake. Had no problems with Faat Kine though, which we watched next. Can’t say I liked this very much. Instead of blurrily remembering things about it, below are a bunch of quotes from other people.

One of the soldiers in charge, the commandant, was the main white actor in Black Girl.



Sembene’s third film launched his international reputation, reaching an audience far beyond Senegal’s Diola community, to whom he had directly addressed the film. Emitai takes place in the period at the end of the World War II, as West African veterans are returning to their homes in the French colonies. General De Gaulle, the hero of the trench resistance, is now the leader of the newly liberated France, yet forced conscriptions and massacres of Diola villages continue, some of them led by former members of France’s Vichy government. With Emitai, Sembene realized his statement “film should be a school of history.” When the film was released in 1971, it was immediately banned in Senegal, and throughout Africa.

WBAI’s explanation:

Sembene returns to village life in “Emitai.” It is in the early days of WWII and the French Vichy government is rounding up African youth to fight in their war. A village has been occupied by a company of native soldiers who are ordered about by a white Frenchman. Not one given to romanticism, Sembene depicts the lower-ranking African soldiers as passive servants of white rule.

Not satisfied with dragooning young men in a kind of neo-feudal tribute, the French demand rice as well to feed their army. With this demand, the villagers decide they have had enough. Not only is rice necessary for their physical survival, it is their link with their gods. Rice, like the rain that nourishes it, is sacred. To retain their links to the sacred, they hide the harvested rice from the soldiers.

In retaliation, the soldiers force the village women to sit in the brutal sun. They will only be released when the rice is turned over. In order to decide how to save themselves and their people, the village elders convene a series of meetings in a secluded altar to their gods beneath an enormous baobab tree. The gods, including Emitai, the god of thunder, instruct them to make sacrifices. So, in an obviously futile gesture, the elders sacrifice a rooster and then a goat, sprinkling the blood on the earth beneath the tree, after which the carcasses are heaved into a hollow in the trunk. Obviously there is an implied criticism of one aspect of traditional life by Sembene. Animism is no defense against French rifles.


From the NY Times:

The villagers don’t exactly need the rice; it is to be used in religious ceremonies, not for sustenance. And the French don’t really need it either. Halfway through the movie, deGaulle replaces Petain, the above-ground battles are ended, and so is the demand for overseas food. But everyone remains inflexible, and the story of “Emitai” continues to a fatal standoff in its bitter conclusion.

Just before the village chief dies—from French rifle wounds — he utterly renounces the gods, wherupon he is gotten up for a marvelous funeral, so he may rest with them in eternity. This juxtaposition is typical of the spirit “Emitai.”

It is a cool, balanced, proportionate spirit, affectionate but unillusioned, and wonderfully suited to the intricacies (and the idiosyncracies) of the subject matter. Sembene does not grab you; he engages you. Much of the time he photographs his action in the middle distance—not for the sake of distance but for the sake of an inclusiveness that keeps surprising you with its ironic sophistication.

“Emitai” isn’t a very complicated movie—in the abstract, little more than a tragic vignette. But for its purposes it is very complete; and considerate of the puzzles faced by its gods, its victims and its killers.

S. Axmaker likes it:

Emitai (1971) remains, to my mind, Sembene’s greatest masterpiece and his most important achievement. His angry attack on colonialism was inspired by the real life resistance of a Diola tribe who stood against the French soldiers that conscripted their men and took their rice during World War II. Sembene tosses out the conventions of western filmmaking and creates a style that arises from the storytelling traditions of rural Senegal. The contemplative pace, performances more ritual than realistic, and formal “call and response” dialogue create a world from the outside in, giving western audiences a culturally unique perspective and African audiences a sense of their own voice.

Sembene’s fourth feature and his second movie I’ve seen named after a spell/curse.

IMDB: “It is the dawn of Senegal’s independence from France, but as the citizens celebrate in the streets we soon become aware that only the faces have changed. White money still controls the government. One official, Aboucader Beye, known by the title “El Hadji,” takes advantage of some of that money to marry his third wife, to the sorrow and chagrin of his first two wives and the resentment of his nationalist daughter. But he discovers on his wedding night that he has been struck with a “xala,” a curse of impotence. El Hadji goes to comic lengths to find the cause and remove the xala, resulting in a scathing satirical ending.”

Rama the daughter appears in Guelwaar.







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.