Soul Trader

Cow leg alert!

African film reviewed by an ignoramus! Over at The Daily Notebook, I atone for past sins of omission, reviewing SOUL BOY, produced by Tom Tykwer, which I missed at Edinburgh International Film Festival. Hooray for second chances.

13 Responses to “Soul Trader”

  1. I caught it accidentally at EIFF and fell a little bit in love with it. The hoof just added to the fun!

  2. Yeah, it’s really lovely, isn’t it? Possibly the sweetness of the story comes from the love it was made with, and also obviously from the enthusiasm of these first timers suddenly getting to tell a story of their own.


    The American Cinematheque is goign to screen Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire at the Aero theater on Los Angeles on September 12th. The film’s star, Paul Mazursky, will be there to talk about it.

  4. Superb! The nice clips shown in A Life in Pictures attest to the fact that the look of the film is its greatest strength. It’ll be wonderful for people to see it as it was intended to be seen, rather than in the black-market video version which is pretty dodgy quality.

  5. As someone who has watched a great deal of African cinema for reasons related to my studies, I have a great deal of sympathy with your point about feeling that you *should* be watching African cinema as a good liberal; any time something seems like an obligation, all the joy is drained out! I also feel that some critics turn off their critical faculties when dealing with African cinema, which is a terribly patronising attitude; surely the right thing to do is to subject every film to a solid analysis, while not being oblivious to the circumstances in which a film was made?

    Tykwer is a fascinating patron for this workshop/endeavour, because I’m convinced I see the influence of some African filmmakers in his work – Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Quartier Mozart seems to me an obvious precursor for some of the genre-play and self-consciousness of Run Lola Run, for instance.

    I think you’d really like the film Ouaga Saga, a really joyous African film that hasn’t received nearly enough attention; a great film-lover’s film, too.

  6. Back in my VHS days, African cinema meant Ousmane Sembene and very little else. There was more variety in Iranian cinema available. Funny thing is that I never felt as if I was doing penance by watching a different culture’s cinema. If I didn’t like/understand it, I’d stop watching. Makes me a dilettante, I guess.

  7. Gareth, I’m going to look for Ouaga Saga, and I welcome more suggestions!

    Mark, Sembene, who seems like a great guy, was the first name I encountered in African cinema, but I never made a serious attempt to investigate his work: the little I saw didn’t get me past the feeling of obligation. If anyone has a suggestion of where to start with him, I’m all ears.

  8. I don’t know if it’s due to what got put on video, but I also didn’t much care for what I saw from Sembene, which is why I never tried to find much else. The problem was African cinema was never “hip”, even in an ironic way here. So, precious little of it was around. I think the places that stocked it felt it their obligation to do so, since the more liberal hipster video shops were the only ones who did stock any. This isn’t L.A., but I don’t exactly live in a total cultural backwater, I can even find tins of Spotted Dick in my city, though I never had the nerve to buy it, let alone eat any :)

  9. Heh.

    The critic Mark Cousins, a great booster of world cinema, says he declined to write an intro to a book on African cinema because the author/s had said nothing at all about the visual language in the films under discussion. And that may have been part of my problem too: a lot of the writing on cinema in general seems to imagine the text is somehow separate from and more important than what you actually see and hear in the cinema, which isn’t worth talking about. So I couldn’t find out about the stylistic approaches on offer, which would have attracted me to specific African films, I’m sure.

  10. In addition to Sembene’s work, some of my favorite films from Africa are;

    Wanderers of the Desert – Nacer Khemir from Tunisia
    An absolutely beautiful film with some stunning art direction and something of a mysterious or magical sort of plot that slightly calls to mind those of Ruiz in a way, but is distinctly its own.

    Cairo Station – Youssef Chahine from Egypt
    This one surprised me for its breadth of character and style. It looks great, filmed in black and white, and feels something like a French film of the thirties, a kind of community oriented poetic realism perhaps.

    The Night of Counting the Years – Shadi Abdel Salam from Egypt
    A somewhat slower moving film, which is appropriate given its subject matter. It is also known as The Mummy, and it indeed trades a little on the mythic qualities of the horror films associated with mummies, but reverses it and shows the Egyptian side of things and locates the “horror” in the selling of antiquities.

    Hyenas &
    The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun – Djibril Diop Mambéty from Senegal
    I think Mambety is an amazing director. The Little Girl… is one of the warmest most life affirming films I know of, and it looks great. There isn’t that much of a plot, but like much of African cinema, it emphasizes and shows a whole community in a way that western films only rarely do.
    Hyenas is adapted from a play by the Swiss playwright Friedrich Dirrenmatt, but you’d never know it since it is fit so perfectly into its new domain. It highlights the other area African films tend to delve into which is a sort of moral parable or fable intended somewhat as a lesson, but so deeply felt that it doesn’t appear that way while watching it.

    Yeelen – Souleymane Cissé from Mali
    Yeelen is a folktale and as such involves magic and power struggles as a young man grows into adulthood.
    (The Wind is also a great looking film from Cisse, and seemed very involving, but I only could see it with French subs, so I can’t say too much about it other than it is a political fable.)

    Waiting for Happiness – Abderrahmane Sissako from Mauritania
    This film has something more of a contemplative feel to it and fits into the current fashion for that style, but does it very well.

    Guimba the Tyrant – Cheick Oumar Sissoko from Mali
    Guimba, like Yeelen, is one of the films that highlights the more tribal and mystic side of Africa, which is something that garners mixed feelings from critics due to suggestions that it is feeding stereotypes, but I don’t agree. Guimba is amusing and dramatic in just the right sort of mix.

    (I also liked Hardware directed by Richard Stanley from South Africa, but that doesn’t seem to be thought of as fitting the same sort of designation as the others.)

    There is also a nifty list of other fine sub-Saharan African films here that includes some links to watch the films online, although, sadly, not all of them are still active;

    It was put together by the person who “represented” Africa in last year’s World Cup at The Auteurs site, where a group of people chose a country, or in this case a continent and matched groups of films against each other to showcase world cinema. People voted on which selection of three films they preferred and the “winner” moved on to new round to face a new country. Africa did, perhaps, surprisingly well and made it all the way to the semi-finals, which shows for the small group of people that participated, African cinema could hold up with the best from around the world.

    Sorry for going on at length about this, but I think African cinema is often more alive, vital and new than movies are in many other places in the world. I watched a Nollywood film, Sawaroide, the other day, and I couldn’t help but notice how much it felt like a film from the thirties in some ways. There is a sense of excitement about the very act of making it and performing that those involved have that is lost in the more industrial style cinema. While his also means there are occasional moments where one notices the “flaws” or seams of the film due to less experienced actors or crew, this tends not to bother me at all in the same way that many b-movies of the forties had a charm the more professionally made Hollywood films lacked.

  11. Thanks! I’m tracking down a few of those to watch in the coming weeks, hopefully. Hold me to it!

    I’m going for Guimba the Tyrant and The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun first. I’m glad we both fixed on the 30s analogy, not in the sense of the films being in any way “primitive” (I love pre-code Hollywood too much to suggest that) but in the pace, energy, social commitment and willingness to use archetypes without embarrassment.

  12. Yes, I would hate for people to think I meant that the directors I mentioned were in any way less competent than those in the west. Sembene, Mambety, Cisse and the rest are clearly masters of their craft, and a film like Sissako’s Waiting for Happiness doesn’t evince any difference in skill than films from elsewhere in the world even at the craft level. Overall however, yes, there is a feeling that the idea of the audience is very different than in most of the film industry, the constant integration of community rather than a strict focus on single characters really stands out, and the actors and looser plots in some of the films are often the location of the energy that hearkens back to the thirties. It does vary from film to film though.

    As a rough sort of comparison, I think Spike Lee’s films owe a large debt of influence to Sembene, although mixed with Scorsese, in the way they are structured and the emphasis on community dynamics and how decisions made by one character can effect the whole.

  13. Oh, don’t worry, you were perfectly clear.

    Filmmaking about communities is actively discouraged in all the screenwriting books which boost the idea of the single protagonist and his struggle. The Hollywood model seems to have political implications. Fortunately, many screenwriters ignore the books.

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