La nuit de la vérité
**½/**** Image B- Sound B+ Extras B-
starring Naky Sy Savané, Commandant Moussa Cissé, Georgette Paré, Adama Ouédraogo
screenplay by Marc Gautron and Fanta Régina Nacro
directed by Fanta Régina Nacro
by Travis Mackenzie Hoover Watching the thoroughly detestable Blood Diamond recently, I wondered what it would take to get something approaching the process of suffering in the Third World without the added distraction of stupid white people and their irrelevant angst. But it turns out there are other ways to water down the story, too: The Night of Truth (La nuit de la vérité) would apparently do away with Hollywood's fondness for outsiders looking in, yet in many ways, it has its own simplistic solutions and vague sentiments. Whatever the film's good intentions, its depiction of fictional warring peoples enjoying a shaky truce leaves out much of the important data needed to understand the original conflict. Though fitfully moving in terms of the breadth of atrocities on display, it doesn't say much more than "war bad"--which, though true, doesn't bring anyone any closer to good peace.
The fictitious West African peoples are the ruling Nayak and the rebellious Bonandes. After years of fighting, the two tribes--headed by Le President (Adama Ouédraogo) for the Nayak and Col. Theo (Moussa Cissé) for the Bonandes--are settling down for a cessation of hostilities. A ceremonial feast is prepared, and ranking members on both sides are invited. Trouble is, many aren't so sure this is going to work out. Theo's wife Soumari (Georgette Paré) and the President's wife Edna (Naky Sy Savané) have less "noble" concerns than their statesmen husbands, each of whom remembers the violent acts committed against them and their children. Neither trusts the opposition; even local eccentric Tomoto (Rasmane Ouédraogo) is all but wishing for the war to continue. Nevertheless, the two sides get together at the President's residence, lay down their arms, and approach one another despite the rancour of years and countless dead.
The Night of Truth never gives us a real sense of either side or how the fighting started in the first place. Wars are generally fought because somebody wants what someone else has--and nobody seems to want anything in this particular situation. We're not fed any information on what was being fought over, or the origins of the conflict, or any colonial influence that might be involved. All we know is that there was a war, and it's gotta stop. The film is often chilling in its evocation of people wearily used to war (a scene where youths recount how they lost various limbs is hard to forget), and the apparent impossibility of forgiving and forgetting bubbles to the surface in vivid ways. At the end of the day, though, it's not analytical enough to come up with anything beyond "Can't we all just get along?" Peace here is not brokered, it's just sort of declared.
It would be nice to be able to wave one's hand and bring "Adam's sons" together in harmony, but the kind of hatred that influences the Nayaks and Bonandes of the world comes with serious economic stakes and historical precedents that make reconciliation a tad complex. To be fair, The Night of Truth isn't trying to avoid these problems: it's often moving and unpleasant, especially in dealing with the psychic fallout of endless ethnic strife; and it places most of the burden on the women, who are left helpless as their sons and husbands abuse them. Unfortunately, the film isn't just gunning for an evocation--it appears to believe that it can put its foot down and get enemies to come to their senses. Where someone like Ousmane Sembene would have sketched the mechanisms that allow oppression to exist, director/co-writer Fanta Régina Nacro simply jumps to the last step of freedom and omits the long process that would climax at such a moment. This is understandable, but it doesn't teach much in the long run.
First Run Features' DVD release of The Night of Truth leaves something to be desired. While the 1.85:1, 16x9-enhanced image is sufficiently sharp, it's also somewhat grainy and constantly bedevilled by ghosting. I haven't seen the latter defect in some time; in a word, it looks dupey. The French-language, Dolby 2.0 stereo audio is also rather faint, though the subwoofer actually burps to life in the occasional drumming/dancing sequences that pepper the ceremonial banquet. English subtitles are burned-in and thus can't be de-selected.
Information on First Run Features and the Global Film Initiative, the trailer for the 2005 Global Film Initiative slate, and text pushing several of these titles complete the DVD portion of the extras--but a .pdf study guide features a director's statement in which Nacro offers a reason for her vagueness. She wasn't thinking of Africa so much as Yugoslavia, and stresses that ethnic violence was not restricted to Africa. Although this is an important point to raise, her attempting to address all "ethnic cleansing" allows her to at once disengage from the various historical forces that shape such conflicts and stay pie in the sky. The study guide portion includes questions like "How would YOU explain civil war? Why do you think the Nayaks and Bonandes were at war?"--a query that would require less reasoning than fantasizing.
100 minutes; NR; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced); French DD 2.0 (Stereo); English subtitles (see review); DVD-5; Region One; First Run