starring Venus Seye, Mame Ndumbe Diop, Ndiagne Dia
written and directed by Ousmane Sembene
by Walter Chaw Though John Dunne clarified that "no man is an island, entire of itself," for all cinematic intents and purposes, Ousmane Sembene is the whole of the Dark Continent. Now 73 years old, the African auteur presents Faat Kiné ("Aunt Kiné"), a wonderful film resplendent with Sembene's unaffected anti-style and even-handed approach to thorny issues of the ails--new (AIDS) and old (neo-colonialism, violent misogyny)--festering at the core of the modern African sensibility, stunting its growth as surely as the murderous European invasions of a century ago. Faat Kiné is Sembene's sunniest piece, defining a trend for 2001 when one considers the return of another legendary, septuagenarian filmmaker: Jacques Rivette's effervescent Va savoir. But although Va savoir and Faat Kiné share strong and opinionated female protagonists and sweet love story endings, Rivette (eternally) grapples with the absurdism of identity; Sembene's demons are rooted in the absurd notion of a people divided by damning traditions and crippling prejudice.
Faat Kiné and Sembene's brilliance is an ability to teach without proselytizing: he allows characters to point fingers without wagging his at them in return. In the title role of Kiné, Venus Seye is a strong, vulgar force of nature, all bright colours and flashing glances. The owner and sometime proprietor of her own gas station, Kiné is the mother to two fatherless children, Aby (Mariama Balde) and Djip (Ndiagne Dia), both of whom are graduating with their baccalaureate as the film opens. Wishing to continue their university education abroad, Faat Kiné follows their process of accepting that there's no money for their dreams while they conspire to find a kind husband for their man-bitter mom. We learn in a harrowing flashback that Kiné's own Mammy (played with a sober dignity by Mame Ndoumbé) sits so straight and stiff because her back is a mass of scar tissue, the result of having saved Kiné from her father's intention to burn her.
Faat Kiné is full of the insight, optimism, good humour, and pride that thirty-five years of filmmaking and a lifetime of championing the real-world concerns of third world aecidia predictably lends a work of art. Ending with one of the most poignant, satisfying, and witty love scenes I've seen, Sembene's Faat Kiné is a tough-love education from a trusted mentor who cares enough to tell you about the things that worry him, and smart enough to present it (like the carefully wrapped package that Aby receives at her commencement party but never opens) as a wonderful and edifying mystery whose gifts are revealed in due time.