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50th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Monday, April 30, 2007
7:00 p.m. Bamako
Abderrahmane Sissako (Mali/France/U.S., 2006)

Set in the Malian capital of its title, Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako centers on a show trial in which the plaintiff, "African society," argues against exploitation by the defendant, the World Bank. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and a military guard, all cloaked in ceremonial gowns and attire, preside over the theatrics, which unfold in a courtyard shared by several families. While the defense attorney invokes histrionics, men and women go about their daily lives and rhythms, retrieving well water, rocking infants, dyeing clothes—a wedding procession even makes its way through the "courtroom," but the trial persists. The forward march of procedural bureaucracy may refuse any disruption, but so does the daily domestic routine. Throughout the court proceedings, passionate witnesses—played by well-known artists and intellectuals—make well-crafted arguments against the IMF. A professor of economics states, "They come to tell me the Negro is lazy; he cannot develop independently. But this Negro that you are crushing to death with your economic machinery laid the foundations for your economy. And this Negro has ensured your development." Bamako is an allegory lamenting the exploitation "the North" practices on African society, in which the welfare of the people is brutally neglected. However, Sissako is not simply pleading a case for Africa as a continent of the abused. Cleverly sandwiching the poignant moments of the trial with satirical interludes (children crawl through the "courtroom," men bang on the speakers blasting the trial throughout the city), the filmmaker pokes fun at the attempt to impose a Western conception of justice on the conflicts affecting Africa. Note the inclusion of a film-within-a-film at Bamako's midway point: executive producer Danny Glover (To Sleep with Anger, SFIFF 1990) and Elia Suleiman (Chronicle of a Disappearance, SFIFF 1996) make cameo appearances along with other Sergio Leone-style bandits, as Western "heroes"—brown, black, and white—scourging an African village.

—Jennifer Preissel

• Written by Sissako. Photographed by Jacques Besse. With Aïssa Maïga, Tiécoura Traoré, Hélène Diarra, Habib Dembélé. (108 mins)