Bamako reminded me of why I chose The Evening Class as the name for my personal film blog. It is right in league with Sembene's assertion that African cinemas are the evening class for adults who approach cinema as a means to focus on the issues of their lives. In the West we are accustomed to such issues being diluted by fictional dramatizations that cater to our short attention spans and whatever appetite for narrative entertainment or visual spectacle is currently in vogue. Bamako will disappoint such expectations and will not likely find favor among most Western audiences, which is unfortunate, because it is short of brilliant, particularly in its indigenous allegiance to now-outmoded styles of oratory that any armchair anthropologist will recognize from the Algonquin, the Maya, among other groups who encircle an issue with eloquence in hopes of sifting out a solution.
In Bamako the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, globalization itself, is put on trial in a small courtyard where the rituals of justice comingle with the rituals of everyday life. But justice, ever a relative term too frequently mistaken for law enforcement, is not only blind with dispassionate eyes wide open but as hobbled as the metaphorical ram that provides moments of comic relief for being a thinly-veiled critique of the judicial process. I am reminded of the historical accounts of Amerindian oration subverted by the treaty-speak of the invading Europeans, how all that eloquence pleading for fair treatment was reduced to signed treaties that were easily ignored and broken, and self-serving laws that ignored existing systems of resolution. What is spoken of in Bamako is readily apparent and that might draw criticism from those wanting to hear something "new." But how can eloquence move on to something "new" when it is still encircling the unresolved issues of the past? What needs to be paid attention to here is how these complaints are urgently addressed and the countenances of those addressing the court or listening nearby. The faces tell everything. They are powerful and beautiful and diverse. Some complain to the court in anger, others in heated debate, others through silence and a refusal to acknowledge the court's sovereignty; but, the movie's sterling moment is when an elder who has been refused audience early in the film, can no longer hold the words in his heart, and interrupts the proceedings with a song that does not need to be subtitled to be translated. It is one of the most powerful songs of heart I have ever heard and its plea for compassion silences everyone into rapt attention. My breath caught in my throat. Bamako asserts that it is not enough to find blame, it is not enough to find those on trial guilty. Suffering demands immediate recompense and the shame of modern life is its calculated deliberations.
Abderrahmane Sissako was in attendance and I wish I could have stayed to hear the Q&A but had an appointment to keep. In gist, however, he was grateful for the film being shown at the festival and hopes audiences will intuit that Africa's lament might all too soon be inherited by the West.