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March 18, 2012

Bamako (2006)
Director: Abderrahmane Sissako
Actors: Aïssa Maïga, Tiécouna Traoré, Maimouna Hélène Diarra


Synopsis: The citizens of Africa conduct a mock prosecution of the World Bank and IMF in Bamako, Mali.

Review: There’s no doubting the worthiness and topicality of Bamako’s subject matter – a critique of the World Bank and IMF (and by extension all Western governmental policy), and the Developed World’s de facto economic suppression and sustained impoverisation of Africa. The only question is – why make a film about it, and if so, why not a more familiar political documentary – perhaps featuring those celebrity crusaders, Bono and Bob Geldof, as they seek to highlight Africa’s plight? Where Bamako really justifies its existence – and thrillingly so – is in providing a necessarily African voice (quite literally) in this debate, and conceiving of an ingenious theatricality to ward against accusations of a lack of drama and an excess of stodgy didacticism in the film’s set-up.

The concept itself is clever – staging a mock prosecution of these Western monetary institutions – and creating the courtroom in the courtyard of a regular Malian family in Bamako, rather than in some grandiose legal building. Around this framework, director Abderrahmane Sissako cleverly merges the micro with the macro, with lawyers arguing the grander points about the ‘Africa problem’, versus mini-dramatisations of the various African citizens who either live in Bamako, or come to Bamako to testify against the World Bank. Sissako even further removes the film from accusations of simple propaganda by having witty postmodern flourishes such as a Danny Glover-starring African cowboy trailer or a comedically backward African TV broadcast. In short, Sissako’s film works because it offers a corrective to the (sometime unintentionally) condescending Western stereotype of Africa as an afflicted and pitiable continent. The Africans asked to speak at the court-hearing, either though their eloquence or quiet dignity, offer hope that an Africa freed from the chains of its massive debt crisis (some African countries pay back over 50% of their GDP) can begin to break the shackles of its seemingly endless cycle of poverty, famine and corruption, for a brighter future. (March 2012)

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