leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
Colorful and deceptively buoyant until it suddenly pulls the rug out from under you, Burkinabe filmmaker Dani Kouyate's reworking of a folk story whose roots go back to 7th-century oral traditions is also a pointed political allegory whose dual intentions are signaled by the voice-over narrator's wry allusion to Jean Cocteau's observation that "legends have the privilege of being ageless." Once upon a time in the city of Koumbi, in the kingdom of Wagadou, a despotic emperor, the Kaya Maghan (Kardigue Laico Traore), was told that the Python god was demanding its traditional tribute: the sacrifice of a well-born virgin. The emperor's priests say further that the Python God wants a particular girl, the beautiful Sia Yatabene (Fatoumata Diawara), so a messenger is dispatched to tell her parents and ease their grief with a gift of Sia's weight in gold. But Sia runs off in the night and takes refuge in the hut of a madman named Kerfa (Hamadoun Kassogue), whose ramblings are filled with bitter truths that sane people don't dare express. The emperor sends General Wakhane (Sotigue Kouyate, the director's father) to track down Sia, sorely testing Wakhane's loyalties; Sia is engaged to Wakhane's nephew, Mamadi (Ibrahim Baba Cisse), who's away fighting for Wagadu. Worse, Wakhane quickly discovers that most of Koumbi's citizens, from wrinkled grannies to restless young men, don't think very highly of murdering blameless young women in the name of unseen snake-god mojo. If they weren't afraid of the Kaya Maghan's soldiers, they'd be rioting in the streets. Mamadi's return from the front gives Wakhane an idea, but in order to save Sia, he and Mamadi will have to face down the mysterious Python God in hand-to-hand combat. Working from a play by Mauritanian writer Moussa Diagana, Kouyate uses this traditional tale to comment ruefully on the complicity of Africa's leaders in the oppression of its people. The film's sleight-of-hand conclusion is truly haunting; Kouyate suddenly, seamlessly links the story's rural never-never land setting to contemporary urban Africa, and transforms the ill-used Sia of legend into a modern-day Cassandra whose ravings Africans ignore at their own peril.