Film Reviews
"Banel and "Adama" photo courtesy of Kino Lorber

Familiar issues arise in uniquely African contexts in Washington University’s 18th African Film Festival, Friday, March 22, through Sunday, March 24. In “Omen,” the first feature, Belgian-Congolese writer/director rapper Baloji sends Koffi, who has lived eighteen years in Belgium, back to Kinshasa, the hometown he fled when Koffi’s rare birthmark prompted his mother Mujila to brand him an evil sorcerer.

Mujila’s unsympathetic opinion has not changed. In addition, Koffi’s father avoids him though his sister Tshala, equally ostracized, welcomes Koffi and his pregnant white fiancée Alice, who prompted the trip. Through four fragmented chapters, each interrupted by surreal witchcraft fantasies, Baloji explores tradition, both its enduring rituals and alienating effects. By contrast, young Paco has embraced his curse; others struggle. In Swahili, director Baloji’s name means sorcerer. As with Koffi, he too is alienated from his family lending a powerful autobiographical element to “Omen.”

Saturday, Senegalese director Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s “Banel and Adama” also finds the title couple challenging tradition. Nineteen-year-old Adama has rejected his culturally designated position as tribal chief, a role incurred by the death of his elder brother Yero. In a remote northern village immersed in Muslim tradition, Adama and Banel, the deceased Yero’s second wife, dig out two houses buried in the sand, an effective metaphor for their attempt to liberate themselves from prevailing beliefs. Their societal conflict comes to vivid life through vibrant, gorgeous cinematography and strong performances.

Sunday, in “A Tooth for a Tooth,” another Senegalese writer/director, Ottis Ba Mamadou, settles in to 2011 Dakar as fifty-four-year-old, downsized civil servant Idrissa Kaboré struggles to accept his status, unsuccessfully searching for a job, and dismayed at earning less than his wife Viviane in her medical career. His male ego suffering, Idrissa borrows money from shady character Ibou, lies to all about his situation, and rejects the menial job he considers beneath his dignity. He repeatedly curses IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn for IMF cutbacks causing the economic disruption that also affects his daughter Aminata and her fiancé Moussa. As Idrissa sinks deeper into trouble, a local boy he has befriended repays his kindness in a clever twist of a targeted bewitchment involving a donkey.

A short precedes each feature film. In “Mulika de” which protests the exploitation of highly sought minerals with no benefit for the local people. For “Father’s Day,” twelve-year-old Alakhe, who lives with his mother and grandmother, must speak at a school assembly of the father he does not know. His quest will change their lives. “On the Surface” is a lovely, animated meditation by a young Black woman living in Iceland and choosing to immerse herself in the Iceland Sea. All these films, features and shorts, present memorable, thought-provoking, entertaining content in technically impressive works too unavailable to us in such a concentrated fashion, a bonus inviting informative comparisons and contrasts with each other and our own cultural practices.

Also of note, at 3:00 p.m. Saturday, a Youth Matinee program introduces five short films specifically chosen for children. All films include English subtitles as needed. The African Film Festival is sponsored by the Department of African and African American Studies, Film & Media Studies, and the African Students Association of Washington University. All screenings take place March 22 through March 24 in Washington University’s Brown Hall 100. For more information, you may visit the website:

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