Bamako ***1/2

Posted: April 20, 2007

Written and directed by Abderrahmane Sissako. With Danny Glover, Aissa Maiga and Tiecoura Traore. In French and Bambara with subtitles. Distributed by New Yorker Films. No MPAA rating (violence, adult themes). 1 hour, 50 mins. Playing at the Ritz East.

What's going on here?

In Bamako, Mauritian writer-director Abderrahmane Sissako's impassioned meditation on the plight of modern Africa, the courtyard of a Mali building - where families live, where water is pumped, where flies and dust intersect in the hot breeze of an outdoor fan - has been turned over to an international tribunal. Judges in fancy robes sit at a table, lawyers wait to speak, a few Malians likewise take their turn.

This mock trial, interrupted by daily comings and goings, is in session to assess the culpability of the West - as represented by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund - in the face of a continent's endemic poverty, dysfunction and disease. When 40 percent of an African nation's revenues go to paying down debt, what does that leave for schools, health care, basic services?

Very little.

Essentially a debate between various pro-West voices and independent-minded Malians, Bamako is, despite the long speeches and litany of statistics, no dry, didactic affair. Sissako has an eye for the seemingly random detail, a quiet sense of the absurd, and he even throws in an allegorical spaghetti western in which a gang of gunslingers, including Danny Glover, shoot it out, never mind if innocent women and babies fall.

And never mind Hollywood's big-star, big-budget hand-wringing about Africa - Bamako is the real thing. - Steven Rea

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