Banel & Adama

Banel & Adama ★★★★

This debut feature from Senegalese director Ramata-Toulaye Sy is the kind of small film that comes out of nowhere each MIFF and gets under your skin.  

Banel (Khady Mane) and Adama (Mamadou Diallo) are a star-crossed couple in their late teens, living in a remote village in northern Senegal.  Although they have been in love since their early teens, Banel was compelled to marry the tribal chief, Yero, Adama’s brother, as his second wife. Adama seems to have been content to live within the strictures of his tribe, but when Yero drowns one night in an uncovered well (there is a possible inference that Banel might have removed the cover) and Adama and Banel are free to marry, the village is outraged by Adama’s refusal to also step up into the position of tribal chief.

He wants to live away from the village in a house that he and Banel have been excavating from previous sand drifts and Banel alienates her family by rejecting getting pregnant and having a family.  When a drought strikes the area, the villagers blame this calamity on the couple’s refusal to live within tribal norms, with the bulk of the blame being attributed to Banel as the fiercely independent woman.  

There is some magic realism in the figure of a small boy named Malik who is aways following Banel - Adama calls him “a scribe angel” who is trying to read her mind - and it is hard to tell whether or not he is a real person who lives in the village.

Amine Berrada’s cinematography makes great use of the rugged locations in northern Senegal and the film ends with a spectacular sandstorm (Sy filmed at the end of summer) which stands in for a more conventional ending.  Even with the story just petering out, this is a very impressive first feature and the MIFF jury awarded it the $140,000 Bright Horizons Award for emerging filmmakers.

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