(Abderrahmane Sissako, Mali/USA/France, 2006)
Beautiful. The whole film simmers with a mirage-like turbulence of moral passion and suppressed life. Easily one of the wisest films and most humane films I've seen in a long time. Sissako carefully, gracefully sketches a picture of life during a kind of wartime: the ravages brought to Mali by the imperious (and imperial) diktats of Western financial institutions (the World Bank and the IMF).
While the central action of the film involves the ceremonial "trial" of these institutions, which have imposed harsh economic conditions on their debtor clients, the atmosphere of the film is woven with strands of ordinary life that surround and flow through the legal proceedings. Sissako conveys the tragic dimensions of ordinary Malians' predicaments - poverty, frustration, despair - but is always aware of the way that life and love persist despite these hard facts. And he exhibits a kind of instinctual understanding of the possibilities and limits of politicially organized action. The trial empowers some, but leaves out others; there are those on both sides who are indifferent and bemused by the affair. Since the trial is not legally binding, its strength lies in the ceremonial power of testimony, a kind of faith in the veracity of performance. We hear from intellectuals and peasants, officials and artists. The film's vision becomes a kind of bright glimpse of a truly participatory, non-exclusive democracy, one that is as everyday as it is exceptional. But it's only a glimpse, and central though it may be, it's the life in the periphery that casts a bigger shadow.