Visual essay: La vie sur terre (continued)

The camera cuts to a medium shot of Dramane’s bike and a hat indicating his presence in the home inside this doorway. Though he will not be seen in the following shot that focuses on a family, his camera works as the intermediary as a letter is dictated outloud by a poor man to his relative living in Europe pleading for assistance. A medium shot of that man and his wife and children in the background transitions to a close up shot of his face. One of the rare close ups of the film serves here to emphasize his subjectivity and the emotional turmoil as a result of his present-day situation, exemplary of what is happening in Sokolo. His words are sharp and irrevocable, and highlighted by the Schubert’s music.

“Dear Brother,

I received your letter along with your gifts. They made us very happy. Dramane’s return is a good opportunity for me to write back to you. This year has seen problems on the land and on the fields. The price of water and upkeep has almost doubled. It has been hard to bear. If you send nothing, I don’t know what will become of us. Life in the bush is only possible with assistance.”

Through the intimate communication conveyed to his brother, this letter addressed from the South to the North, exemplifies and elaborates the themes framed by Césaire’s writings into the millennium’s context: the economic inequities of globalization.

The message reveals a continent dependent on the assistance of their relatives living in Europe or of foreign aid. Colonialism has lead to massive unrest and poverty, unbalanced economic trade and the most undemocratic forms of governance. Its haunting effects are still prevalent today, as a result of the inaction of governments coupled with reforms imposed by the international institutions such as IMF and the World Bank (an issue that will be tackled by Sissako in his feature length film Bamako). People, strangled by mercantilist capitalism and exploitation, can barely survive as small farmers. The man’s words of despair echo the Discourse on Colonialism.

A cut to the post office, the attendant desperately repeating “Sokolo, Sokolo, Sokolo” draws attention to the larger significance of Dramane’s filming in an attempt to reach the outside world. A military man is passed the call yet loses connection.

A shot of the tailor (who is the man dictating the letter to his relative) working busily at the sewing machine in the frame of the door cuts to a close up of the tailor concentrated at work and his wife attending to the baby. The voiceover of the letter being dictated continues,

“There is also the problem of medicine. Life is not without its illnesses. As head of the family it’s my responsibility to seek help, we send our gratitude, thanks again. There’s nothing like being able to lend a hand. If we don’t help each other, the family cannot prosper.”

The scene cuts to a motorcycle travelling down the road, creating momentum as violin music commences in the desolate village, which cuts to the little boy with the ball and a young child traveling up the road. On the soundtrack Aimé Césaire’s words echo the letter from the tailor,

“And so I came. Once again, this life hobbles before me. No, not this life… This death… This senseless, merciless death, this death in which grandeur comes to naught. The devastating pettiness of this death hobbling from one pettiness to the next.”

A procession of men, coming toward the camera, are walking in the street of the village as villagers remove their hats in a sign of respect and only the sound of their feet are heard. The relatively short shots of this sequence contrast with the usual long shot of the village, expressing a sense of emergency. The scene cuts to .....

.... a close up of Nana sleeping on the countertop at the post office, waiting for the phone call. She barely opens her eyes at the sound of the procession. The scene cuts to a little boy seen from behind who looks back at a little girl seen earlier dancing. The sound of men walking in the street continues.

A phone call then wakes up Nana, but it is not the one she is waiting for. She goes back to rest her head on the counter, which evokes a sense of further despair and lethargy.

The procession of men continues outside with a traditional wind instrument and slow percussive drumming that accentuates the dramatic tone and the atmosphere of languor. A long shot of a sun damaged wall cuts to a close up of the father dictating the letter: “Just do what you can. It would lighten our load.” The scene transitions to the little boy with his ball in his arm, playing with the dust. The father states, “These days, you are the only one who can help us.”
Different shots of the village succeed one another with the voiceover of the letter. Men begin moving from the wall as it no longer provides shade. Cut to a long shot of an empty part of the village, then a medium shot of a man walking with a child in arms, and then a long shot of the well where two women are collecting water. The photographer is packing his equipment. The day has gone. The village seems quite empty as the father states, “Thanks again...Thank you for helping your family, we know it is not easy.”

Nana and the little boy are seated on a different corner of a street wall and appear sad and desperate. We see bulls being chased by a boy and the empty village center. The sole exception to the desolate village is a passing motorcycle, whose sound of the motor evokes a disquieting feeling. As the motorcycle passes and disappears, the father concludes,

“Believe me… we know how hard it is for you. I know that living in exile is difficult in itself, but the difficulties are not the same. May this New Year bring less hardship than the last. May god ensure that it brings much less hardship, much less pain than last year.”

The sequence cuts back to the father of the family who sits, dignified in his plea, with the sound of his baby crying in the background as the traditional guitar music and song leads on the soundtrack and then cuts to….

…. a swarm of birds that descend upon the rice fields as boys and men chase them with flags. The little boy who was once playing with the ball is now working in the field swatting at the birds as the traditional music continues. This scene could explain the procession filmed earlier, which may have originated in a collective action to fight the devastating effects of the birds. However, the uncertainty of the fate of Sokolo remains: The birds pose a literal threat to the survival of the people. Their destructive effects also capture the suffering and indifference of political authorities, of Europe and of the world.
Nana is pumping her bike tire, foreshadowing her departure that cuts to… . … a long fixed shot of the rice field where Dramane is walking with his father.

The use of the wide-angle shot in the rice field enhances the idea of the enormity of the task that remains to be accomplished. Dramane’s father appears as a wise man counseling his son, who might soon return to Europe and draw attention to the plight of Sokolo. The nostalgic guitar music of Salif Keita plays in the background as Dramane concludes with the words of Césaire,

“We are standing now, my country and me, our hair in the wind, my tiny hand now in its enormous fist, and strength is not in us but above us in a voice piercing the night, like the sting of an apocalyptic wasp. The voice proclaims that for centuries Europe has fed us lies and sent us plagues. For it is not true that man’s work is done, that we have no place in this world, that we parasitize this world, that we have to walk in step with the world. Man’s work has only just begun."...

... "Man has to conquer the forbidden stilled in the recesses of his fervor. No race has a monopoly on beauty, on intelligence or on strength. Everyone must find his place when the conquest comes. Now we know that the sun revolves around our Earth, illuminating the area our will alone has chosen and that every star shoots from heaven to Earth at our command, without limits.”

The beautiful and wide landscape enhances Césaire’s poetry again as a meditative and contemplative reflection to start the new millennium.

Nana riding away, probably to her village... as the music of Salif Keita “Folon” plays again in the background.
Credits – song

Notes for visual essay

[1] Glissant, Edouard. Poetics of Relation. Trans. Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997, p.11. [return to page 1]

[2] Deleuze Gilles and Guattari Feliz, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. See the introduction “Rhizomes” pp. 1-25 and more particularly pp.21-25.

[3] Saïd, Edward. Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000, p. xxxv.

[4] Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markam. London: Pluto Press, 1986. p.157

[5] Interview with Abderrahmane Sissako: “Filmer n’est pas un Bonheur” by Osange Silou. In Cinémas africains, une oasis dans le désert? Cineactions (106), pp. 88-92.

[6] Myers, Mary. “The promotion of democracy at the grassroots. The example of Mali.” Democratization, 5:2(1998): 200-216.

[7] See website: http://www.ictregulationtoolkit.org/en/toolkit/notes/PracticeNote/3153

[8] Hamblin, Sarah. “Toward a Transnational African Cinema: Image and Authenticity in La vie sur terre.Black Camera, vol. 3, n.2 (2012), p.14.
[return to page 2]

[9] Hamblin, Sarah. op.cit., p.13.