Visual essay: La vie sur terre (continued)

At the post office, the close up on the sign, “Le telephone pour tous c’est notre priorité”/ “Telephone for all is our priority” .... .... seems ironic as the same man is desperately trying to reach his interlocutor.

The next scene is also a repeated scene with slight variation of mise en scène: a man is being photographed in a traditional blue costume. This is almost a frontal shot: He is not looking at the photographer’s camera but toward the filmmaker's camera, a repeated “mise en abîme”.

The image of the man being photographed appears in the mirror of the hairdresser who is leaning on the wall, waiting for clients, and the recurring sound of his scissors. The day is going by…

Nana is at the post office. Shot like the other clients at the desk, she does not have any success in making her phone call in spite of all the good will of the phone attendant to reach her interlocutor (a certain shopkeeper, Baï). The little boy appears there smiling with his ball and playing with the stamps of the post office.
As the day goes by slowly, halfway through the movie, a very rhythmic percussive music enables the viewer to rediscover the village in a somewhat new momentum. The music creates an upbeat portrayal of village life. After a long shot of the men seating by the wall, and a man passing by, a particular scene of a daily routine is revisited. Like Dramane a few scenes earlier, a man appears suddenly behind a mud wall, while scrubbing his face. The image cuts to a little boy dancing to the rhythm of the music. Then, the man appears washing his face from a side angle. He is covered with soap and Dramane arrives on his bike to talk to him. A radio is placed on the mud wall.

As the friendly discussion ensues regarding a local fair, the camera cuts to a little girl dancing towards the background and then forward to the rhythm of the music. Dramane’s departing on his bike leaves the scene empty that then cuts to…
  … Nana jovially riding to the fair, ringing her bell as she moves through the market stands. The music fades into the live sound of the fair transitioning to ....
.... the merchants and the photographer under his camera hood and the same client amazed as he describes the technological advancement of an elevator door in a light hearted manner. Viewed from the village, modern technologies take a comical aspect, while still generating wonder and amazement.

The next scene sets a more dramatic tone. The prophetic and visionary words of Aimé Césaire are accompanied by a lulling and melancholy piano soundtrack and the image of a desert. Dramane is riding his bike outside the village, while his voice recites,

“And here, at daybreak’s end is my manly prayer. May I hear neither laughter nor shouting. My eyes are fixed on this city whose beauty I foresee.”

The camera then cuts to a long shot of a woman drawing water from a well and a large populated street full of dust. The light is declining and shade appears more abundant.

“Give me the wild faith of a witch doctor. Give my hands the strength to sculpt. Make my soul a steely sword. I will not slip away.”

A tracking medium shot captures the father lying on his bed reading a book with his glasses. We hear Dramane’s voice as he continues reciting Césaire’s poem. This is a repetition of the scene at the beginning of the movie, dramatized by the piano establishing a now nostalgic and weary atmosphere between Dramane and his father.

The camera pauses on Dramane writing in his journal and then back to his father reading Discourse on Colonialism. This scene again invites the viewer to engage in a meditative and reflexive moment.

“Make me a rebel to vanity, yet docile to its genius like the fist of an outstretched arm.”

There is a close up on the table with the radio, different books and magazines, a photograph of Aimé Césaire as a young man, and a newspaper entitled “A True Memory.” Césaire’s image as it appears physically in the movie will be recognized by those who know him; here it is placed among the different books and magazines about the men of Sokolo and the Republic of Mali. This shot reemphasizes the importance of books in the movie. It also establishes a link between Aimé Césaire’s contribution to historical accounts of colonialism to analyzing the present situation of Sokolo and Mali. In this little intellectual “still life,” Sissako, in turn, pays homage to Aimé Césaire. The shot returns to the photographer and the village square while Cesaire’s words continue and give another perspective on village life. The light has declined. The piano music is still playing, slightly intruded upon by the sound of a motorcycle and the voice of Dramane.
We hear Césaire’s words in a voiceover, “Make of me the creator of high works. The time has come to gird our loins, like valiant men.” The scene cuts to a tailor getting his second wind and starting his sewing machine as if to allude to the work ahead.

The universal message of Aimé Césaire’s poem is illustrated by various wide-angle long shots of the village at dusk, Dramane on his bike, Nana on her bike, a person looking away from the camera contemplating the landscape, and men walking in the declining light through the rice field.


“But in doing so, my heart keeps me from hate. Make not of me the spiteful man whom I despise. If I confine myself to this unique race, you know the tyranny of my love. You know it is not hatred of other races that makes me the plowman of my own. What I want is for universal hungering, for universal thirsting.”

In this particular quotation, the use of a poetic “I” proclaiming to be “the plowman of this unique race” reveals the messianic role of the narrator to elevate humanity and build a society without racial differences. This prophetic annunciation of a new era gives a new metaphorical dimension to the village.

Césaire’s prophecy of a future already inscribed in the present appears on a sign that reads, “My ear to the ground I heard tomorrow pass.”
The International French Radio broadcasts the return of the sun in France and the end of cold weather, news that appears out of place in Sokolo, a place of constant sun. Nana is having her portrait taken. In the meantime at the post office, a military official is trying to reach army headquarters to no avail.
A close up of Nana reveals her broad smile that changes to a serious unsmiling pose. Here the repetition of the scene creates an unexpected outcome, showing Nana in a new light.

Back at the post office, there is no climax of events as the “G-spot” is unavailable. The officer is still having no luck reaching the military headquarters. The phone attendant repeating in French, “Hallo le point G” (an abbreviated form of the military headquarters) with an unintentional sexual reference creates a double entendre of comic relief. Marie fron France calls back but has missed Dramane. The main postal worker tells her that the sun is their worst enemy as a reminder of the harsh climate conditions in Sokolo. He underlines the indifference of France. He generously offers to get Dramane, sets the phone down and leaves the room. The little boy with the ball appears at the post office desk laughing, creating another comedic effect.

We are left with an image of the empty desk as the International French Radio starts again in the background. Ryako Suketomo in Tokyo sends her wishes, “Life goes on even if the century changes. Be Zen! Happy New Year!” This is as a lighthearted jest to Marie, who the viewer assumes might be growing impatient waiting on the line.

The movie takes a dramatic turn with a soundtrack of a violin. The postal worker walks with his crutches toward the camera in fixed long shot by the well in the declining sun. It’s a predicting sign of “this hobbling life,” a comment by Césaire that will occur later in the film. Back at the photographer’s studio, an image of Nana is developing and in the photograph, she appears sad. This coincidental image provokes the unexpected or subverts our expectations as a villager comments, “I didn’t know she was so sad.”
After a tracking of the boy playing in the street with the ball, Dramane again appears on his bike. Nana is at the post office, and the attendant offers a solution with different options of cross-transferring a call so that she may reach the person she was previously unable to contact. Out of the four options, she chooses the optional cross transferring method. This rather complex system illustrates the way people adapt in uncertain circumstances. Men are standing to escape the sun, holding their radio. A soundtrack of a Schubert Quintet announces a dramatic and emotional situation to come.