XALA by Ousmane Sembene

In Movies on February 21, 2012 by Sukrit Tagged: , ,

Any Price !

I want to be a Man again

says El Hadji, the protagonist, polygamist, corrupt businessman who forms the central character of Xala, a film by Ousmane Sembene. Xala is a vivid portrayal of the contradiction of Senegalese life post independence from their French colionolists. As the drums die out, the celebration of freedom and independence is replaced by a muted resignation; for nothing has changed. The white man ruled the black man before the independence, now it is the turn of the higher black man to rule the lower black man with the white man’s money. The opening sequence of the film brilliantly captures this- As the traditional costumes are replaced by sharp business suits and by empty speeches of socialism, the white man comes with money in hand to buy out the black ‘buisnessmen’.

El Hadji, a corrupt businessmen uses bribed money to buy himself a third wife. With the purchase follows the big night after the wedding. And, what do you think happend ? Impotence or Xala struck. The movie is at once a critique of polygamy, of the influence of european culture on the traditional but most of all it is a critique of the black man’s dream to become white. This dream is not limited to Senegal or Africa. Instances of it can be seen across the colonized world- in India with the adoption of westernized beliefs, in Pakistan, in Trinidad, in Latin America… It seems as if the colonized suffer from an all pervading Stockholm syndrome. As the urban or rich section of the population transform into “Europeans” the country expectedly goes through a cultural crisis. It is the crisis of a country without a past and without a history to claim as its own. What follows is an inevitable rift between the newly westernized and the nationalists, not unlike fundamentalism in Middle East. Ousmane shows us delicate glimpses of this in the confrontations between the French speaking El Hadji and his nationalist daughter Rama.

Films trying to capture the reality of post-colonists life are hardly rare. We see them coming up every now and then only to sink without a trace. Xala is different and Xala is successful. It is different because it does not try to be serious- indeed it is a comic portrayal with touches of sarcasm. The use of satire as a medium is behind its success. One is almost forced to wonder as to why satire becomes the medium of choice to represent so called post-colonist existence ? Is it because the reality of life in the so called third world countries just too chaotic to fit into the confines of realism ? This question requires further consideration. I shall come back to it in future posts.

In the meantime watch Xala. Two hours of Senegalese entertainment. I’d rate it 7.6/10. And before i forget, the background score is superb (9/10).


PS: Can someone please lend me the book ? Cant seem to find a copy.


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