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Month
April
Year
1994
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Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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[1992. DirectedbyOusmaneSembène. Cast Mame Ndoumbe Diop, Thierno Ndiaye, Ndiawar Diop. In Wolof and French with English Subtitles. New Yorker Films. 115 mins.] Oneof the worltfsgreatdi rectors, Ousmane Sembène also remains one of Africa's foremost committed political artists. Sembène's best films- "Mandabf (1969), "Xala" (1974), and "Ceddo" (1977) - have an uncompromising intelligence that cuts equally left and right without regard to ideology or social fashion. With "Guelwaar," Sembène has supplied just enough sugar to entice his audience before they realize he has trapped them in an enthralling political assassination that redounds upon the film's original premise. For Sembène has struck again, and like a master musician whose chromatic interpretation sustains a deceptively complex melody, he wraps black comedy, neocolonialism, third-world charity, AIDS, nationalism, feminism, and religious bigotry in a cleveriy written aliegory of modem Senegal that s as suspenseful and entertaining as it is humorous. Christian village patriarch Pierre Henri Thioune (Thiemo Ndiaye) - nicknamed "Guelwaar" or "noble one" - has been mysteriously beaten to death and his far-flung children have come home to particípate in his burial. Eldest son Barthéïémy (Ndiawar Diop) has come from Paris, and daughter Sophie (Marie-Augustine Diatta) has come from Dakar. Together with youngest son Aloys (Moustapha Diop), they have rallied around their mother (Mame Ndoumbe Diop), and joined in the village's grief over their famed fathei's death. It is only on the moming of the funeral that it is discovered Guelwaar's body hasaccidentally been released by the mortuary to a Muslim neighbor and has been buried in an Islamic graveyard. When the Christian village elders attempt to dressthi serrar, the townsfolk are torn apart by their religious prejudices. Thus even in death, Guelwaar has roused the passion s ofhisfellowcitizens and famly. What's mostsurprising aboutthisconcise black comedy is Sembène's ability to comment upon universal social and political issues while steadfastly focusing his film upon the microcosm of a seemingly isolated incident. Bureaucratie red tape, family conflicts, and religious factionalism are mingled together effortlessly to reveal each of these absurdities' prejudices. It is only with the final confrontation of the two clans and the uneasy mediation of their religious and political leaders that Sembène's allegory of modem África begins to draw its disparate threads together. Through an exalted cry of Senegalese pride, Sembène's characters find themselves confronted with their foibles. That they ultimately draw individual strength f rom theircollective weaknesses proves to be Guelwaar"s lasting legacy to his people. Through Sembène's cunningly clever characterization of nascent Af rican nationalism caught in its historical crossroads between colonialism and provincialism - religión and prejudice, ennui and integrity - "Guelwaar" proves itself to be a very wise film created by a very wise filmmaker. That the film is also mmensely enjoyable is merely the extra dollop of genius that a superior craftsman imparts to his art. "Guelwaar" easily ranks with Sembène's finest work. DAVE [1993. Directed by Ivan Reitman. Cast: Kevin Kline, Sigoumey Weaver, Frank Langella, Ben Kingsley. Warner Bros. FilmsWamer Bros. Home Video. 110 mins.] ft Pooriy written leadlng men - at least when t comes to Hollywood - are not a nare commodity. Indeed, sometimes poorty written leadlng characters are considerad an asset in a movie because it makes t all the more dfficult to grasp where the fallure of the screenplay lies. Whaf s all the more amazing is that otherwise sophisticated audences will buy into such sophomoric caricatures. This complaint hits "Dave" square between the eyes. The creators of this depressingly (and consistently) negligent piece of off-electkn yeartripe apparently thought thed figurad every angle for this antiMr. Smith (Goes to Washington). They just conveniently forgot to add one crucial ingrediënt to the mix - a plausible heno to accompany a plausible story. The basic concert of this pseudo-blackcomedy is thata Baltimore nobody, Dave Kovic, who occasionally doubles as the President, would end up grabbing the brass ring upon being given the inadvertent chance. When the smarmy Numero Uno, President Bill Mitchell, tums up a stiff - flagrant delictono less - his power-hungry Chief of Staff, Bob Alexander, hom swoggles ou r lovable schnook into play ing world leader until the White House can come up with a suitably plausible "plan B." Written somewhere between Cesare Borgia and H.R. Hakteman (although bearing an uncanny resemblance to a young LJoyd Bentsen); Alexander"s coup cfétat depends upon knuckle-headed Dave to be a willing pawn in his unscrupulous plot to subvert the American political system. But what this usurper of power hadn't counted upon, however, is that our bumbling hero would ultimately develop a social consdenceand wantto help'the little people,"thereby setting up a power conflict which exposes the villain in his malodorous depravity. This desperate (if not also predictably politically correct) cliché peters out the plot fromhere. Unbelievably - or maybe more precisely, understandably, given the dearth of genuine comedies out there in California right now- "Dave" gamered an Academy Award nomination for original screenplay at this year's Oscar ceremonies. Preston Stu rges has to be rolling in his McGinty grave. Throughit all, Frank Langella'stakeonAlexan der as a Gucci-wrapped whiplash drunk on power is a delightful blaze of malevolent energy. If s only unfortunate that Kevin Kline has decided to play his President Dave as slightly betterthan dm-witted. Dave Kovic has no snap- sparks would be too much to ask for- and Wine's presence is really no more than a narcissistic tum by an actor who can do better than this performance indicates. SigoumeyWeaver, bless her red, wtiite and blue populist heart, tnesmightilyto pump somelifeinto her improbable scènes as First Lady Ellen Mitchell. But it does take a duo to tango and Kline's Presidential klutz is only a club fora foot. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Ben Kingsley looks suitably embarrassed for having taken the producéis money in what amounts to a carneo appearance as a "decenf ' Vice-President Nance who's even more of a square than our forthright Chief impostor. Lest intelligence gets in the way of a film that apparentfy hasn't any idea of how the succession of Presidential powerworks, "Dave" sends up the whole American politica! process during his only State-ofthe-Union address. Not a bad premise, but surely somebody involved with film might have thought in terms of subtlety. Why not have the mpostors embarrass the nation as Kovic addresses the General Assembly of the United Nattens? Afterall, didn't Nikita Khrushchev once get a lot of mileage out of a gig there? The basic problem that this film poses is simple: How can you root fora movie whose depiction of the American govemment is moronic? Isn't what happens in the nation's Capitol bad enough? Don't we watch movies to escape life anymore? Or then again, perhaps we shouldn't grouse and chalk up "Dave" under the heading of a laugh's a laugh? No, this isn't quite right. Because the joke is ultimately on Langella for creating a com pelling villain in a film that desperate ly needsan equallycom pelling hero. His Bob Alexander, like other notable Washingtonites in recent memory, is left alone to twist slowly in the wind. After sitting through "Dave," one gets the feeling this movie would have been infinitely more nteresting if the make-believe bad guys had won for once. Heaven knowsthe win-loss ratio on the real Capitol Hill is a lot worse. RATING KEY ik Acting H Cinematography Direction &E Editing fo Narrative Sound Special Effects Wien a symbol appears following a title, t impïies that the corresponding category s a strength of the movie.

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