copyright 2016, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 57, summer 2016

Temporal subversion and political critique in Abderrahmane Sissako’s La vie sur terre

by Elise Finielz

Contemporary African filmmakers use cinema as a way of depicting and interpreting African experiences in the postcolonial context while simultaneously reinventing aesthetic forms and political engagements.[1] [open notes in new window] Abderrahmane Sissako is a world-renowned filmmaker from Mauritania who has in his own individual and creative way renewed francophone African cinema. His film La vie sur terre (Life on Earth) (Mali 1998) is a documentary fiction on the passage of the millennium in a rural Malian village. In this article, I explore the dynamics of temporalities this film presents; frequently the film resists a linear conception of history, creates temporal disruptions, and manipulates time in order to offer strong socio-political commentary.

La vie sur terre was commissioned by the French/German television channel La Sept Arte as part of a series entitled L'An 2000 Vue Par… (The Year 2000 Seen By…) for the millennium celebration. Each film was to be directed by a young filmmaker, set in a different country, on a different continent, and to take place during the last few days of December 1999. Out of the ten movies, the only director chosen from Africa was Abderrahmane Sissako. To fulfill the guidelines, Sissako decided to film in his father’s village in Mali, portraying his own return to his native land, and to draw on Aimé Césaire’s most famous poem “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land.” Within the film, as the international French radio announces to the world the change of the new millennium, life goes on in Sokolo…

Using Walter Mignolo as a reference, I will argue that Sissako’s film La vie sur terre subverts conceptions of Time and History as linear, chronological and dialectical in order to resist a global “chrono-politics” and re-inscribe the local time of the present and possible futures into “pluriversal time.”[3]

The logic of coincidence

 “Coincidence” may be defined as, “the occurrence of two or more things at the same time (coexistence, simultaneity, correspondence);” it is also “the notable concurrence of events or circumstances having no apparent causal connection.” (Oxford English Dictionary). Considering the production of the film La vie sur terre, coincidence seems to have worked in two ways.

First, coincidence operated in the production process. The narrative emerged while making the movie, and many of the things that happened in the village occurred by coincidence. There was no fixed narrative determined in advance. Instead of unfolding according to a traditional plot structure, La vie sur terre functions in some ways as a report, recording social reality and events from different places in the village. Indeed, the movie shows the village of Sokolo in its present way of life. The film is like a documentary fiction or a fictional documentary because by setting up fictional mini-stories in the village with no link to one another, it subverts the sense of realism generally pertaining to the documentary genre.[4] It was shot without professional actors, with a tiny shooting script of two or three pages. Villagers who become characters appear anonymously in their daily activities and routines (e.g., Dramane’s father, the radio announcer, the post office employees, etc). Costumes were not used. Small narratives involving a number of figures in the town were developed and shot. This way of filming thus utilizes a middle ground between documentary and fiction and leaves space for both the director’s and the villager-actors’ improvisation.

Second, the movie’s final structure largely took shape during the editing by cutting and juxtaposing shots contrary to traditional dramatic logic and sequencing and also by adding a narrator-Dramane’s voice over. Dialogue is either brief or non-existent, with the audience’s attention drawn more towards the scenery, emotions and humor. This manner of shooting and editing is especially adapted to the difficult conditions of film production in Africa: financial and logistical uncertainties, shooting in Africa then postproduction in France, lack of professional actors, the communities’ experience of severe climatic conditions. However, it also has its advantages: a strong light and colors contributing to an aesthetic of local reality that is the substance of the film.

The experimental and ambiguous flow of La vie sur terre that we can view as a “documentary fiction” does not proceed with the logic of action. Indeed, as I mentioned, the film reduces narratological developments to a minimum. Often the viewer seems plunged into a purely visual situation accompanied by ambient sound. As one day passes in the film’s slight narrative, characters move through a present situation shown in its “everydayness.”[5] People in the movie evolve in a temporal reality that goes beyond the immediate past, present or future. The movie seems to achieve what in Deleuzian terms, could be called a time-image characteristic of modern cinema, in opposition to the movement-image, typical of classical Hollywood-inspired film. Regarding “movement-image,” or more particularly “action-image,” the presentation of time is indirect. It is tied to a sensory-motor process through which one image is subordinated to the other to produce a narrative; time here is subordinated to movement. In regards to time-image, the perception of time through movement no longer functions: “time is out of joint.” In time-image, movement no longer measures time, but folds into time; the time-image, a new cinematic language, creates a direct presentation of time.

La vie sur terre also frustrates an idea of authenticity, a quality one could attach to the documentary genre. La vie sur terre can generate unstable meanings attributable to the events in the film because of its suggestive but not precisely located connections between images, texts and sounds.[6] In its gestalt it creates what Deleuze would call a rhizomatic dynamic. As a result, it produces for the viewer a new and dynamic level of perception/reception. As an example of coincidence, director, Abderrahmane Sissako, tells in an interview that he had chosen randomly Nana for the main female character of the movie—when she was riding her bike one day in front of the camera. Moreover, for the scenes at the post office, the director asked people to make a phone call, but what happens next was the product of pure improvisation and spontaneity:

“We were fortunate for the movie that this girl went by at this moment. It was the same thing for the scenes at the post office: when I would ask someone to call (the phone is very present in the movie) I did not know what would happen next. I was choosing the other characters depending on the things I had already got. But it was always a surprise. This construction was open to permanent improvisation. We had “to be there.””[7]

In this way, the filming in the village constantly relied on a process of “documentary fiction.”

Furthermore, the moment of the millennium does not work as an element of a character’s action or a crucial narratological element. But it does work as a motif or a coincidence in the sense that two parallel moments are occurring at the same time. The local radio broadcasts global news in the background (Radio France International), providing information on the celebration of the millennium in various metropolises worldwide. Simultaneously the images reflect the very present moment of that announcement to depict a village where life is caught in a movement that transcends the duration of the movie. Presenting Radio France and its village listeners creates a parallel and a discrepancy, discordance and contrast between advancing, linear modern time juxtaposed against the village’s suspended time.

In Mignolo’s essay The Darker Side of Western Modernity, “time” is a fundamental concept for building the imaginary of the modern/colonial world and an instrument for both controlling knowledge and advancing a vision of society based on progress and “development.” Modernity creates its own counterpart or binary: “tradition” without which it could not exist. These two terms, time and tradition, could only emerge through a linear conception of time, imagining a point of departure and a point of arrival. This conception of time underpins “progress” and “evolution,” and nowadays “development”; it serves as a rhetorical discourse imposing modernity and the coloniality of knowledge [8] at the expense of any other conception of time being relegated to the “traditional” or “old”:

“The idea of modernity needed its own tradition in order to be distinguished as modernity. Thus, while modernity was established by inventing its own tradition (Middle Ages and Antiquity) and colonizing time, it so happens that in the colonization of space the rhetoric of modernity was used to disavow the legitimacy of the “traditions” (invented in the process of inventing modernity) of civilizations that were colonized.”[9]

Mignolo’s analysis builds upon the Martiniquan writer and theorist Edouard Glissant’s critique of History in revealing the structure of power serving an ideology of progress and modernity to justify imperialistic ambitions.[10] Glissant denounces the hegemonic concept of History (with a capital H) as a linear and hierarchical process, instrumentalized to erase the collective memories of colonized peoples. Glissant writes:

“History is a highly functional fantasy of the West, originating at precisely the time when it alone ‘made’ the history of the World. If Hegel relegated African peoples to the ahistorical, Ameredian peoples to the prehistorical in order to reserve History for European peoples exclusively, it appears that it is not because these African or American peoples 'have entered History' that we can conclude today that such a hierarchical conception of “the march of History” is no longer relevant."[11]

According to Mignolo, contemporary globalization continues to reproduce imperial and colonial differentiation. In the postmodern era, the leitmotiv “time is money” and the accompanying corporate ideology of efficiency and productivity give rise to an “acceleration of time” that mainly occurs in the spheres of the market, finance, and media. In turn, relations between time, work, and value are completely disrupted.

Sissako’s film La vie sur terre, from my perspective,illustrates the discrepancy between two different conceptions of time as it attempts to resist “global coloniality.” The movie starts in a Parisian supermarket saturated with consumer goods and then shows Sokolo, the village of the director’s father. Time in the village appears to pass slowly. Life is given rhythm by the natural cycles of the seasons and harvest (the rice), natural elements (birds coming to eat in the fields), and life events (birth and death). In addition, the film is edited to focus on just one day, showing typical patterns of daily living in one specific village. Time as represented in the film corresponds to what Mignolo calls “cyclical” or “cosmological time.”

The fever and hectic time of the millennium embedded in a linear time of chronological events would be completely absent in the film if it were not for the news from France International Radio playing in the background. The radio provides commentary on how many cities celebrate the millennium’s passage. But these reports seem out of place in the village where life is not disturbed by this event; indeed, nothing “exciting” seems to happen. The voice on the radio states,

“In Paris, thousands are expected to attend local dances and fireworks displays. Huge crowds are expected at the Eiffel Tower. For 1000 days, it has been counting down to the year 2000.”

At the same time in the village, a barrel falls off a donkey cart driven by a reckless youth. Its crashing down makes a sound that foreshadows the counting of the millennium, but at the same time that sound also re-appropriates this counting down in its own way, in the way the village is experiencing it. It is a trivial sound that does not mean an important celebration, a passage toward something new or different. The juxtaposition of the radio countdown and this crash reminds the spectator of time’s abruptness and artificiality since this event does not produce anything significant other than a brief, amusing moment in the course of daily life.

There is an inherent paradox about life in Sokolo: it is a life in the margins away from the hectic time in the world’s capitals. Here nothing much seems to take place except time as played out in life’s daily routines. The fragmented narrative of La Vie sur Terre as a documentary-fiction creates an atmosphere or an impression, using intersecting images. The film as a whole demonstrates a refusal of linear narrative logic. Despite being an apparently drowsy place, the village also has within it constant movement—people walking, riding bikes, or driving carriages, and all sorts of animals (cows, donkeys, dogs, chickens…) crisscrossing the landscape. In addition, long shots with a stationary camera and a fixed focal length create very linear spatial movements on the screen, especially in images dwelling on the environment.

Aimé Césaire and the colonial critique

Born in 1913 in the island of Martinique, which was at the time a French colony, Aimé Césaire came from a modest family of seven children. He was a brilliant student, and he spent five years in Paris completing his education—in the prestigious lycée Louis Legrand and later in the Ecole Normale Supérieure.
His years in exile were very formative. In Paris, Césaire began to discover progressively the repressed part of his Martiniquan identity, his African identity. Furthermore, that discovery coincided with his growing awareness of the colonial situation since he was in contact with students from Africa and the African Diaspora. Among those was Leopold Sedar Senghor, who was seven years his elder and who also attended the lycée Louis Legrand where they met and started their longtime friendship. Along with the poet and soon-to-be president of Senegal, Senghor, and his Guyanese counterpart, Léon Gontran Damas, Césaire co-founded the the student journal L’étudiant noir, targeting an audience of Black students.

In this journal was Césaire’s epiphany; he wrote an article that for the first time coined the term “Negritude” in response and as a counter to the colonial system of oppression and racial alienation. Against the French imperial project of a “civilizing mission” and cultural assimilation, the Negritude movement worked toward giving a new valorization to Africa and its culture. Negritude meant claiming pride in an African heritage that had been long disregarded and looked upon as “primitive” by ethnocentric European ideology. The founders of Negritude were influenced by German anthropologist Leo Frobenius (1873-1938) whose late work Kulturegeschichte Afrikas (1933) (History of the African civilization), translated into French in 1936, sought to address and rehabilitate Africa’s pre-colonial past. Frobrenius’ research posited that Africa was the site of many highly significant and esteemed cultures and civilizations.

Aimé Césaire started to write what would become his poetic masterpiece: Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land) as he visited the Adriatic coast with his friend Petar Guberina from Yugoslavia. A small island Martiniska whose name coincidentally resonates with Martinique, Césaire’s own island, would have inspired him.[12] Upon his return to Martinique to teach at his former lycée Schoelcher with his new wife Suzanne Roussi, he published the first version of the Cahier in the journal Volontés in 1939.[13] The poem was later discovered in 1942 by the surrealist poet André Breton, who with a group of intellectuals (among whom also the Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam) was fleeing World War II in Europe and sought refuge in the United States. During a stop in Martinique, Breton serendipitously ran into the review Tropiques at a small store when his intent was simply to buy a ribbon for his daughter. It was there he read in amazement some excerpts of Aimé Césaire’s poetry. Thanks to this unexpected encounter, the Cahier made its way to New York and Cuba, contributing to Césaire’s worldwide acclaim. Consequentially, a Spanish translation was published in La Havana in 1943 that was enriched by illustrations from the surrealist painter Wilfredo Lam.[14] Later, the first bilingual edition was published in 1947 in New York and included a laudatory preface from André Breton to Césaire that described the Cahier as, “the greatest lyric monument of our time.”[15] Finally, the commonly accepted “definitive edition” of the publisher “Présence africaine” appeared in 1956.[16]

Nothing like such a poem had ever been written from the Antilles; the style there was marked at that time by “doudouisme,” a literary style grounded in a very exotic and stereotypical representation of the French Antilleans. Influenced by surrealist poets and their ancestors, Rimbaud and Mallarmé, and the symbolists Claudel and Lautréamont, using both verse and prose poetry, violent imagery, obscure and technical vocabulary, Césaire reveals the most intolerable reality of his island. The Cahier transports the reader through his personal journey while developing a complex vision of the devastating alienation, desolation, and self-estrangement of Martiniquan people who were worn out by years of slavery and colonization. From the explosive poem, written under the sign of poesis rather than mimesis, surged an ontological preoccupation:

“a claim of existence from within the colonial discourse rather than establishing a counter discourse from outside.”[17]

The extraordinary force of Césaire’s poetic voice is to achieve through language the promise of an emancipatory project by articulating a lyrical self-realization that manifests itself in consciousness within the historical context of a collective fate. The poem not only seeks to claim the value of Negritude, to transform a racial ideology into a heuristic and creative impulse, but also to embrace the African heritage and in doing so to rearticulate its relation to temporal past, present and future with European colonial powers, and in solidarity with all the oppressed people of the world.

“It weaves a tragic and in no way complacent poetics of the geography and history of this country that was still unknown to itself, and for the first time in our literature, it marked a communication, a relation, of this same country, with the civilizations of Africa, the histories, at long last known, of Haiti and the blacks of the United States, the peoples of the Andes and South America, with the sufferings of the world, its passions and its tremors.”[18]

The poem has had an immense impact on Caribbean literature as well as French poetry and also on decolonization movements across the globe including artists and writers from Africa and the Black Diaspora. In Martinique, in particular, Césaire has had a profound influence on the following generations of intellectuals, such as Frantz Fanon, who was his student at the lycée Schoelcher and Edouard Glissant.

Césaire’s poetic project was closely tied to his political engagement. After World War II, he joined the Communist Party and in 1945 was elected mayor of Fort de France (will be constantly reelected to serve for 56 years) and deputy of Martinique for the French National Assembly (a position that he kept for 48 years). Furthermore, against the assimilation of his island by France, he successfully initiated the law of departmentalization that would give Martinique the status of an overseas department, with equal economic and legal rights, although this law raised a lot of controversies later upon failing to create independence for the island. As a parliament member, he was at the forefront of the critique of colonialism. The publication of his best-known prose essay, Discours sur le colonialisme (Discourse on Colonialism), was first unnoticed in 1950 but internationally acclaimed after the second publication by Présence africaine in 1955.[19] Contrary to what the title may indicate, Discours sur le colonialisme has never been formally a speech. Rather, it takes the form of a virulent, implacable pamphlet against European colonialist ideology, an ideology that led to the worst atrocities and racist regimes in the history of humanity. Césaire attacks colonialism through its own principles by highlighting the contradictions and hypocrisy of the western notion of humanism, progress, and civilization. Fascism and Nazism are the direct outcomes, or “the supreme savagery,” of practices and methods that Europeans implemented first against non-European peoples in their colonies. Judging Europe as “indefensible,” Césaire with great audacity calls into question French intellectuals and politicians with poetic eloquence and personalized satire. Discours sur le colonialisme thereafter became a groundbreaking and key text for the anti-colonial movements against European domination.

A coincidental regime of historicity

By revisiting the words of the famous poet and politician, Aimé Césaire, Sissako not only pays homage to someone who deeply influenced his art, but as a director, he also gives an allegorical dimension to the trivial life of a small Malian village. The narrative voice of the director reading Aimé Césaire’s poem Cahier d’un retour au pays natal provides a poetic and metaphorical force coinciding with the visual representation of Sokolo and its people. The poem operates at an individual and biographical level through the story of exile and return to the homeland, but also at the collective level framed by its anti-colonial message and contemporary postcolonial reality caught between hope and despair. The poem also serves as a counterpoint against an ongoing chrono-politics imposed on Sokolo and post-colonial Africa. Mignolo defines Chrono-politics as:

“… a civilizational principle that serves to ostracize all who do not conform to the modern conventions of time, that devalues ‘subalterns’ for being slow and not racing toward death, which in the rhetoric of modernity is translated as ‘progress and development.’”[20]

As mentioned before, the ambiguity of the images emerging from a cinematic work that seems between documentary and fiction does not provide an obvious message. The movie evolves in ellipses and captures seemingly unimportant aspects of real life pertaining to the present moment rather than illustrate an imposed meaning. How can an anti-colonial discourse or poem, which is situated historically, be interpreted fifty years later? How do these anti-colonial writings pertaining to a particular moment of decolonization still frame the political commentary of a contemporary postcolonial movie? How do they operate in the narrative of the movie? What do they say about the reality of the present portrayed in the movie?

The voices of Aimé Césaire and Abderrahmane Sissako coincide in the sense that the narrator of the movie also experiences a return to the native land: there is a re-appropriation of the poetic narrative. But, like the poem, the movie is not just about the narrator returning to his village. The personal voice of the poet and film director soon embodies the collective voice expressing the preoccupations of the villagers and the economic difficulties faced by an entire continent. The book-length Cahier, although historically situated—written in different steps before decolonization, provides a universal message and a transcendental force which attempts to heal the colonial wounds that persist in a globalized world. The timely call for decolonization does not appear as anachronistic (atemporal) but still meaningful forty years after decolonization. The poetic voice of Aimé Césaire gives a lyrical dimension to the village of Sokolo, which is not entirely filmed for itself but also to represent the dramatic fate of the African continent at the end of the 20th century. The director uses the specificity of the local through the lens of Césaire. Social commentary from the poem is relevant to the moment in the movie. The local radio, ironically called “Radio colon la voix du riz” (“Colonist Radio, the voice of rice”), serves as a relay of the poet’s famous Discours sur le colonialisme through its program “la bibliothèque parlé” (“the open air library”):

“Le grand drame de l’Afrique a moins été sa mise en contact trop tardive avec le reste du monde, que la manière dont ce contact a été opéré; que c’est au moment où l’Europe est tombée entre les mains des financiers et des capitaines d’industries les moins dénués de scrupules que l'Europe s'est « propagée » ; que notre malchance a voulu que ce soit cette Europe-là que nous ayons rencontrée sur notre route et que l'Europe est comptable devant la communauté humaine du plus haut tas de cadavres de l'histoire.”

“Africa’s historic tragedy was less its coming in contact with the rest of the world too late than the way this contact occurred. It was when Europe fell into the hands of industrial leaders entirely lacking in scruples that it expanded. Our misfortune meant it was that Europe we encountered, that Europe which is responsible for the highest pile of corpses in history.”[21]

In this excerpt, Césaire reacts against a misconception about the “historic tragedy” of Africa. Indeed, at that time according to Western criteria of historicity—in particular how they were developed by Hegel—Africa hadn’t entered history. At the end of the 18th century, in his theory on history, the famous philosopher argues:

“Africa proper, as far as History goes back, has remained-for all purposes of connection with the rest of the World-shut up; it is the Gold-land compressed within itself-the land of childhood, which lying beyond the day of history, is enveloped in the dark mantle of Night. Its isolated character originates, not merely in its tropical nature, but essentially in its geographical condition.”[22]

Against such an ahistoric and very “dark” vision of the African continent, Aimé Césaire, in the Discourse, resituates the event of colonization outside a linear conception of history and in turn frames it within a precise geopolitical and economic context. The history of colonization cannot be inscribed into an evolutionary process of the world, or understood as a civilizing mission to lift the natives out of the age of darkness and childhood to turn them into civilized human beings. European colonization is rather the result of an unfortunate coincidence. It is not that Africa has been in the margins of the march of history, but the colonization of Africa (or its historic tragedy) resulted in the continent’s encounter with mercenary European capitalism. Indeed, Africa has been involved in the history of modern Western imperialism since the age of exploration. The discovery of the new world and its colonization by the maritime European powers, was concomitant with the age of beginning trade and manufacture in the West. The exploitation of natural resources and territories in America resulted in a strong demand for labor to supply the European markets with plantation produce and precious metals.

Because Ameridians died in large numbers, either from disease or killed by the colonizers, and the number of European immigrants was insufficient, Africa was to become the main provider of free labor. From the middle of the 15th century up to the 19th century, an estimated 12.5 millions of slaves were deported from Africa to different parts of the Americas and the Caribbean islands and more than a million and a half did not survive the voyage.[23] In Africa itself, an undocumented numbers of victims died while they were captured or on their way to the coast to be sold. If they reached their final destination, slaves worked in the worst conditions. Their life expectancy would not exceed ten years. The exact number of victims of one of the deadliest human enterprise is impossible to know.

After the abolition and suppression of the slave trade and then the abolition of slavery, Africa faced another brutal encounter with predatory Europe. The second industrial revolution and the need for raw materials and natural resources spurred European colonial appetites in Africa itself. By 1914, European imperial powers had divided and taken over the entire continent of Africa, except for Ethiopia and Liberia. This “misfortune” (the term “malchance” or “misfortune” retains an explicit reference to a coincidental occurrence) perpetuates itself across the years, even after decolonization. The repetition of the discourse on colonialism 45 years later is, in turn, important because Europe is deaf to the silent suffering of the former colonized world as the poetic words of Césaire through Dramane’s voice reminds us,

“Europe convulsed in screams, the silent currents of despair fearfully pulling itself together and proudly overestimating itself.” (Cahier d’un retour au pays natal)

France is, among former colonial powers, well known for its denial regarding its colonial past. If France officially recognized slave trades and slaveries perpetrated by European powers against populations deported to Europe, America and the Indian Ocean, from the 15th century, and called it a crime against humanity (law of May 21, 2001 called “Loi Taubira”), in 2005, another law (law of February 23rd, 2005) claimed in one of its articles “the positive aspects of colonization.” This law raised so many protests in France, in its former colonies and in overseas departments, that authorities had to repeal the article. In 2007, nine years after Sissako’s movie, Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France at that time, delivered a highly controversial speech at the university of Dakar, which reveals the long-lasting denial of history and persistence of the Hegelian paradigm toward “Africa” that is commonplace in part of the French political elite and general public.[24]

Today indeed, it is not Africa “being late” on a scale of “development,” unable to adapt to the progress of a modern changing world, but a continent, whose economies have been structured by a global capitalist system that perpetuates mechanisms of dependency, generating what is called “underdevelopment.” Against the image of an immobile and static village living in a mythic time of unalterable traditions, the film aims at representing it as a place of constant movements but also a site of dynamics and change. The phone center at the post-office is one example of a modern telecommunication system well established in the village. It probably closed a few years later, replaced by cyber cafés and mobile phones.

However, the tragedy of colonization seems to prolong itself in the tragedy of the postcolonial state, but in a more subtle and surreptitious way. Towards the end, the film moves toward less referential images to a form of abstraction while it develops a more dramatic tone. Thus the desperate words of a villager writing a letter asking his brother overseas to continue helping him to insure the basic needs of his family (food, water, health care), or he and his relatives will not be able to survive in the village. Those words are ominous. Africa’s unpredictable future stems directly from the detrimental heritage of colonization.

Here I limit this broad argument to the example of agriculture, shown in Sissako’s film. From an economic point of view, colonization required the “modernization” of agricultural activities. From the early days of colonization, African economies were reorganized for a production systematically geared toward exportation of raw materials or mining resources that would gain value within European industries once transformed into manufactured products. Financial investments were mainly directed toward sectors that would sustain their own economic growth. Moreover, colonies have endured the cost of financial investments to build the infrastructures of this new economy through mechanisms of taxation and debts. Because the resources coming from local taxes were too low, the colonies were forced to have recourse to loans since the early beginning of the 20th century.[25] All colonial powers throughout Africa practiced this “model of development” to limit their own expenditures and maximize their profits from the exploitation of the new African market.

Hence, a system of international loans contributes to increase the wealth of creditors and to leads to the impoverishment of the debt’s recipients. After decolonization, development plans were carried on in the same mold reproducing the same mechanisms of underdevelopment inherited from the colonial era: an economy restricted to monoculture and raw materials geared toward exports, vulnerable and dependent on the variations of the world exchange rates set in Western stock exchanges, maintaining African countries in the subservient role of providers of raw materials. In the meantime, food-producing agriculture has been neglected compromising countries’ capacity and autonomy to feed their population, creating risks of food shortages, especially in areas with harsh climate conditions. In addition, the structure of the financial investments in the African economies remained unchanged, coming in great majority from the outside (through development funds from former colonies or international institutions).

In the 80s and 90s, the adjustment and structural reform policies from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund reinforced the permanence of the structure of African economies, in particular the structure of exports, encouraging the development of the existing exportation products as a response to the debt crisis.[26] Consequentially, among the “least developed countries” in the world listed by the United Nations Committee for Development Policy, a majority is located in Sub-Saharan Africa. Mali has been on the list since 1971. Mali economy is primarily based on agriculture: it represents 43.6% of the GDP in 2000, and 80% of the population derives its livelihood from this sector.[27] But the production is extremely irregular and extremely vulnerable to natural hazards (drought, flood, ravaging animals). On top of cereal (millet, sorghum, rice, and corn), Mali produces cotton, which is the country’s largest export crop and has been developed since the colonial era.[28] In the 90s, gold mining expanded rapidly. Gold is becoming the primary export product, above cotton.
Therefore, in spite of the different political regimes since decolonization (socialist, military-led regime followed by democracy), the Malian economy has been dominated by the primary sector, dependent on climate variability and on price of raw materials on the international market.

In La vie sur terre, the birds ravaging the crops in the fields are representations of the economic disaster. The discontent and solidarity of the local community are focused upon, visually depicted when a group of peasants is walking together in a silent procession that embodies what could be an unspoken form of collective action. During their march, the voice of Aimé Césaire’s poem adds a dramatic layer:

“The devastating pettiness of this death hobbling from one pettiness to the next” (Cahier d’un retour au pays natal).

One shot later, the viewer understands the tragedy: the food security of the local community is threatened if the birds are not fought against day after day.

In spite of this very harsh reality, the prophetic and spiritual force of poetry is a promise of a future-to-come or “l’avenir” to use Derrida’s term.[29] The poet becomes an epic hero chronicling and beseeching for a change in fate while living in an intolerable state of economic despair and stagnation. The prophetic words of Aimé Césaire coupled with images of the villagers at work (the tailor at his sewing machine, the young men chasing the birds) and at the end of Dramane and his father walking in the wide rice fields, open a meditative space for historical remission:

“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. 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.” (Cahier d’un retour au pays natal)

I think of La vie sur terre as an attempt to think beyond historicism. By filming in multiple ways of being outside the fever of the millennium, the film negotiates the plenitude of presents and futures that refuse to comply with the prescription of imposed historical processes. It participates in what Mignolo calls decolonial thinking:

“Undoing the colonial difference as was built in the concept of time will involve, among other things, removing time from the privileged position it acquires in complicity with science, capitalism and the mono-culturalism (e.g., universalism) of Western civilization.”[30]

The film is a gesture to “provincialize Europe” [31] in the sense that Europe orchestrates history. At the end, Nana, the main female character, pedals off on her bike to a neighboring town, perhaps the one she was trying to call. The film does not end on a pessimistic note, but concludes in a climatic suspension. Nana on her bike disappears progressively from the camera in a convergence line, leaving the viewer a question of potential.


[1] I am very thankful to the many reviewers of the visual and critical essay for their careful reading, generous support, and valuable advice. I especially would like to thank my professor Natalie Melas for introducing me to Abderrhamane Sissako’s films, and for her inspiration and encouragement to complete this work. I also would like to thank the editors of Jump Cut, and the many proofreaders and commentators of both essays: Patricia Waelder, Caleb Haines, Kathleen Haines, Ross Getman, Neal Allard, Yen Vu, and Maria Flood. [return to text]

[2] Abderrahmane Sissako was born in Mauritania in 1961. He grew up in Mali, was trained as a filmmaker in Russia (like Sembène Ousmane) and now resides in France. Since Life on Earth, he has released three feature films: Waiting for Hapiness (2002), Bamako (2006) and more recently Timbuktu (2014) which was selected to compete for the Palme d’or in Cannes and won seven France’s Cesar awards in February 2015; Sissako’s work has confirmed his talent as one of the most prominent African film-makers.

[3] I am borrowing the concept of “chrono-politics” and “pluriversality” to Walter Mignolo from his book entitled The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Future, Decolonial Option. Durham and London, Duke University Press, 2011. Those terms will be explained in the course of the demonstration.

[4] Rachel Gabara, cited by Hamblin. See Sarah Hamblin, “Toward a Transnational African Cinema: Image and Authenticity in La vie sur terre,Black Camera, vol. 3, n.2 (2012), p.13.

[5] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2. The time-image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1989. p.41.

[6] Hamblin, pp.16-18.

[7] Interview with the director Abderrahmane Sissako, Fiche techniques
Accessed March 23, 2016.

[7b] Mignolo uses imaginary in the sense of Edouard Glissant. The imaginary for Glissant encompasses “the ways, conflictive and contradictory, a culture has of perceiving and conceiving of the world.” (Mignolo, p.152)

[8] Coloniality is a key concept of Mignolo’s work. Its meaning is broader that colonialism : “it is a colonial matrix of power through which world order has been created and managed.” (Mignolo, p.171.)

[9] Mignolo, p.160.

[10] See: Edouard Glissant, “The Quarrel with History.” Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays. Trans. Michael Dash. Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1992, p.61-65. See: Mignolo, pp.149-180.

[11] Glissant, p. 64.

[12 ] A. James Arnold, Modernism and Negritude. The Poetry and Poetics of Aimé Césaire. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1981, p. 10.

[13 ] Aimé Césaire, “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal.” Volontés 20, 1939.  

[14] Aimé Césaire, Retorno al pais natal. La Havana, Molina, 1943.

[15] Aimé Césaire, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal. New York, Brentanos, bilingual edition, 1947.

[16] Aimé Césaire, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal.Paris, Présence Africaine, 1956.

[17] Nathalie Mélas, All the difference in the world: postcoloniality and the end of comparison, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2007, p. 173

[18] Edouard Glissant, “Aimé Césaire: The Poet’s Passion” Small Axe 27 (Oct. 2008), p. 121.

[19] Aimé Césaire, Discours sur le colonialisme. Paris, Présence Africaine, 1955.

[20] Mignolo, p.178.

[21] Aimé Césaire, Discours sur le colonialisme, pp.14-15.

[22] G.W.F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History, trans. J. Sibree, New York, Dover Publications, 1956, p. 18.

[23] David Eltis, “A Brief Overview of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, http://www.slavevoyages.org/assessment/essay
Accessed July 6, 2016.

[24] Among the most contentious part of the speech:

“The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history. The African peasant, who for thousands of years has lived according to the seasons, whose life ideal was to be in harmony with nature, only knew the eternal renewal of time, rhythmed by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words.

In this imaginary world where everything starts over and over again there is no place for human adventure or for the idea of progress. In this universe where nature commands all, man escapes from the anguish of history that torments modern man, but he rests immobile in the centre of a static order where everything seems to have been written beforehand.

This man (the traditional African) never launched himself towards the future. The idea never came to him to get out of this repetition and to invent his own destiny. The problem of Africa, and allow a friend of Africa to say it, is to be found here. Africa’s challenge is to enter to a greater extent into history. To take from it the energy, the force, the desire, the willingness to listen and to espouse its own history.

Africa’s problem is to stop always repeating, always mulling over, to liberate itself from the myth of the eternal return. It is to realize that the golden age that Africa is forever recalling will not return because it has never existed. Africa’s problem is that it lives the present too much in nostalgia for a lost childhood paradise.”

From the unofficial translation in English, http://www.africaresource.com/essays-a-reviews/essays-a-discussions/437-the-unofficial-english-translation-of-sarkozys-speech
Accessed June 28, 2016.

The speech recycled without any subtlety the old racial prejudice prevalent in the colonial era and has generated many criticisms, especially from African scholars. See for example, Makhily Gassama, ed., L’Afrique répond à Sarkozy. Contre le discours de Dakar, Paris, Philippe Rey, février 2008; Jean-Pierre Chrétien, ed., L’Afrique de Sarkozy. Un déni d’histoire, Karthala, juin 2008; Adamé Ba Konaré, ed., Petit précis de remise à niveau sur l’histoire africaine à l’usage du president Sarkosy. Paris, La Découverte, 2008.

[25] Sébastin Dossa Sotindjo, “Pérennité des structures de dépendance et reproduction du sous-développement: le cas du Bénin (ex-Dahomey) de la colonization à aujourd’hui. In Adamé Ba Konaré, ed., Petit précis de remise à niveau sur l’histoire africaine à l’usage du president Sarkosy. Paris, La Découverte, 2008, pp. 227-239.

[26] Sotindjo, p.238.

[27] See: Ministère de l’économie et des finances, République du Mali, “Situation économique et sociale du Mali en 2000 et perspectives pour 2001” http://www.malikunnafoni.com/bibliostat/docs/030107037_dnpd-dnsi_2001.pdf Accessed July 13, 2016.

[28] On the history of the colonial cotton development, see: Richard L. Roberts, Two worlds of cotton. Colonialism and the regional economy in the French Soudan, 1800-1946. Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1996.

[29] Derrida- a Film by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman (2002).
Derrida explains the differentiation of the future and the future to come or “l’avenir”:

“In general, I try to distinguish between what one calls the future and “l’avenir.” The future is that which – tomorrow, later, next century – will be. There’s a future which is predictable, programmed, scheduled, foreseeable. But there is a future, l’avenir (to come) which refers to someone who comes, whose arrival is totally unexpected. For me, that is the real future. That which is totally unpredictable. The Other who comes without my being able to anticipate their arrival. So if there is a real future beyond this other known future, it’s l’avenir in that it’s the coming of the Other when I am completely unable to foresee their arrival.”

[30] Mignolo, op.cit. p.175.

[31] See: Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton University Press: Princeton, 2007.

Captions of visual essay

1. The opening sequence of the film begins with an ascending medium shot showing ornamental ceramic ducks in a Parisian supermarket aisle. Dramane (short for Abderrahmane) is both protagonist and director of the film; he is revealed a few seconds later, among the ducks. This lighthearted opening shot suggests the absurdity of consumerism as he analyzes the products, pursing his lips with a rather comedic duck-like expression.
2. The next shot tracks over an array of butters and cheeses, accompanied by the busy sounds of the supermarket’s cashiers and customers. This long tracking shot connotes overabundance, which later will contrast with the scarcity of resources of Sokolo, a village in Mali.

3. After several shots showing the main protagonist walking through shopping aisles where advertising goods and sales tags stand out amongst the products, Dramane converses with a woman trying on a hat. The camera then follows him ascending an escalator, leaving the store. He carries a polar bear, again a useless decorative object that will contrast later with the harsh and hot weather the protagonist will encounter (it also has a witty connection to Aimé Césaire’s poetic line, “For a screaming man is not a dancing bear,” recited later in the film). The slow motion image accompanied by the profoundly slow notes of an African lute that has replaced the sound of the supermarket. The audio shift underscores Dramane’s introspective and reflective thoughts.

This opening sequence, depicting an excess of material goods, stands in contrast to the scenes of village life in Mali: artificial neon lights versus Mali sunlight; a giant refrigerator versus the heat of the Sahel; an endless array of dairy products versus the little stalls of street merchants; an escalator versus bicycles, walking, and animal-drawn carts; the winter clothes that Dramane is wearing in France (brown overalls and a hat) versus the traditional colored African boubou he wears in Sokolo.

4 A/B/C. The nostalgic music of the African lute continues playing in this scene that establishes passage from Paris to Sokolo. The camera zooms in slowly on the branches of a majestic tree, a symbol of Africa. At the end of the zoom, the branches fill in the screen like a grand tapestry. The image fades to black over which the opening credits appear. The music then ceases and is replaced by the sound of the native land: cows, dogs, and the noises of the countryside. Zooming in on the branches metaphorically indicates the transition between two worlds: Europe and the village of Sokolo.

The branches are emblematic of a transnational connection. The horizontal zooming on the branches could be seen as a metaphor for Glissant’s “devenir-rhizome” or a rhizomatic becoming in the world, representative of Dramane’s migratory status. Their sporadic interconnectivity resembles a rhizome, an image borrowed by Glissant from Deleuze and Guattari that characterizes the Caribbean author’s conception of a plural identity opposed to an unique “root identity”[1]. [open notes for visual essay] Although Dramane is drawing upon Aimé Césaire most famous poem of the negritude movement, Dramane’s return “to the native land” is a transitory one. He is not rediscovering his “African” roots and identity, but in a more contemporary way explores the cross-cultural dynamics and nomadic identities that thrives within the context of various cultures (Malian, Mauritanian and French).

Such cinema privileges ellipses and repetitions rather than a beginning or an end. It seeks to explore “states of meaning” as “it brings into play different regimes of signs.” It depends on a multiplicity of non-dominant and non-hierarchical configurations of representations. Instead of historical narration, La vie sur terre presents history “as a map” and not a “tracing”; in particular, it resists chronology or a specific time organization around the passage of the millennium.

5 A/B. In the next scene, Dramane’s father is sitting on his bed covered by a mosquito net. Next to him another bed with another net is empty, probably indicating his returning son. The camera slowly tracks in from behind and zooms in on the father smiling while reading his son’s letter with a flashlight. Dramane’s voice narrates as his father reads. Dramane’s letter informs his father of an important change of plan: he intends to spend the turn to the new millennium with the father. The passage to the millennium is the only chronological reference in the movie, yet it does not constitute a plot device or a source of action. As Dramane mentions, after the millennium nothing will have changed for the better. It works merely as an excuse to fulfill a desire to film the village: “the desire to film Sokolo, the desire to leave as Aimé Césaire said.”

The desire to film allows the exiled protagonist to put into words the experience of being exiled and the losses it entails. In this scene, Dramane references for the first time Aimé Césaire and his most famous poem: Notebook of a Return to the Native Land. Dramane establishes a clear link between the Martiniquian poet and his own film and personal story.

The themes of exile and wandering are keys to Sissako’s works and in particular his first films. For his first documentary, Rostov Luanda (1997), portraying the situation in Angola after 20 years of a devastating civil war, he draws on a biographical and personal approach: the search for his friendom film school in Moscow whom he had lost track of for 20 years. Octobre/ Oktyabr (1993) and La vie sur terre/Life on Earth (1998) pose the question of returning home. En attendant le bonheur/Waiting for Happiness, Sissako’s 2002 feature about migration, examines in depth questions of migration and offers extended reflections on relations between the European and African continents. Like Dramane, Abdallah, this film’s main character, is an uprooted individual, born in one country, raised in another, and on the verge of immigrating to a third. In transit in a city located in northern Mauritania, between desert and ocean, he is waiting patiently for a hypothetical happiness that he seeks in Europe.

6. During the voiceover of the letter, the scene cuts to a long shot of the field with boys chasing birds. Dramane is questioning the precarious condition of his own exiled status,

“Is what I learn far from you worth what I forget about us?”

He reflects upon a life torn between here and there and the complexity of his in-between-ness. He is a foreigner in both France and Sokolo. What used to be a familiar place has become awkwardly more alien. The return always challenges the exiled to face the loss of familiar places of the past, and so the desire to return is always illusionary:

“No return to the past is without irony or without a sense that a full return or repatriation is impossible. ”[3]

This image at sunset indicates that the film will evolve from the personal conflict of Dramane’s exile to the greater collective concerns of the village and Africa as a whole. Visually Dramane will progressively disappear from the narrative space giving precedence to the real threat that the village faces: famine caused by birds eating their crops.

The movie starts on an optimistic note: “The birds have gone, this is good news,” Dramane mentions in a letter to his father. However the presence of two boys shouting and swatting at the birds with a white flag indicates the birds’ threat is imminent and the villagers refuse to surrender. Indeed, the same image is repeated at the end of the movie. The birds have returned, indicating the situation is still not resolved and Sokolo remains on the verge of starvation.

7. In the next scene, a pick-up truck loaded with luggage on the roof passes by on a dusty road. As the truck is driving away, Dramane walks toward the foreground in wide shot. It’s sunrise in a desert land dotted with a single palm tree. The sun is important in this narrative as time and activities in Sokolo are anchored in the course of the sun. Dramane’s voice-over recites the poetic words of Aimé Césaire. The poet is first mentioned in the letter as an insight for the viewer to connect Dramane’s story to the poem, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, or at least assume the referential link. The landscape’s beautiful natural light and ochre colors complement the poet’s lyrical words and set up a loose relation of text to imagery. Such an associative link between poetry on the soundtrack and scenes of visual life defines Sissako’s aesthetic in this film. The loose relation between sound and image provides a wide latitude for the viewer’s interpretation of the meaning of the “events.” It also allows for the words themselves to provide imaginative images. Because of this suggestive rather than directive relation between sound and image, the viewers, in turn, may focus more at various times on either the image and/or the soundtrack.

“Leave. My heart was bursting with fire and ardor. Leave. I will arrive fresh and young in my country and tell this country whose dust has penetrated my flesh…”

8. “… I wandered for a long time. I now return to your hideous open wounds.”

Dramane’s father, as in the previous scene, is sitting on his bed. He is now holding Muslim prayer beads in place of the letter, patiently passing the beads along in prayer and awaiting his son.

Since Césaire’s foundational poem, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, the exile’s return home and consequent rethinking of his relation to his homeand has become a recurring theme in African postcolonial literature and cinema. The 60s and 70s generation of filmmakers, for example, focused more on questions of immigrants’ suffering in the former colonial nation. Afrique Sur Seine (1955), shot by the Senegalese Paulin Soumanou Vieyra, before decolonization, is considered historically the first African film. This film explored the question of suffering and alienation of young Africans in Paris, nevertheless in a constrained way since the filmmaker was denied the right to shoot in his homeland. La noire de…/The Black Girl (1966) from Ousmane Sembène, Concerto pour un exil/ Concerto for an exile (1968) from Désiré Ecaré, and Soleil ô (1969), Les bicots nègres vos voisins/ Black wogs your neighbors (1974) from Med Hondo, all raise the same haunting issues: the representation of a Black body in a foreign environment, and the economic exploitation, and racial and social oppression in a place where immigrants do not have a livelihood and do not possess the cultural codes.

In the 1990s, African Francophone filmmakers started to develop the theme of the return home to Africa, in the form of documentary (Vacances au pays/ A trip to the country, Jean-Marie Teno, 1990) or documentary fiction (Bye-Bye Africa, Mahamet-Saleh Haroun, 1998; La vie sur terre/ Life on earth, Abderramahne Sissako, 1998). Framed by an autobiographical narrative, a trip back to their country becomes an opportunity for the filmmakers to reflect personally on the situation of their homeland and more broadly on postcolonial Africa (a reflection on the state of cinema in Tchad in Bye-Bye Africa, a reflection on the passage of the millennium and what it means for the village of Sokolo in Mali for La vie sur terre; and a reflection of the illusion of modernity and the meaning of development in Vacances au pays). The exile reconstitutes new understandings of self, family, and environment, but the filmmaker also self-consciously uses the camera as a medium to allow a distant and critical perspective.

9. In a fixed shot, Dramane walks closer. He wears a shirt, white pants and carries a bag on his shoulder. The music of Salif Keita “Folon” starts as the lines of the poem conclude, giving a sense of continuity between poetry and music, and sustaining the element of nostalgia, cutting to….

10. ….a long shot of cattle in a harshly lit desert…cutting to

11. ….a reflection of a bike laterally passing across swamp water.

12. On the water after the bike passes off-screen, a wooden canoe transports Dramane and his bike in the opposite direction. Dramane appears in a colorful costume, indicating that he is no longer a traditional member of the community and brings with him a foreign or even touristy air. In most of the scenes throughout the movie, he is with his bike, which emphasizes his transitory state. With his bike, as with his camera, he is rediscovering the village.

As the boat transverses the screen, in voiceover Dramane reads Aimé Césaire’s lines,

“As I arrive, I’ll say to myself: Beware my body, beware my soul. Do not fold your arms in the sterile stance of a spectator, for life is not spectacle. For a screaming man is not a dancing bear.” (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land)

As a filmmaker, Sissako conveys Dramane’s realization of his exile status and his anti-colonial stance by harnessing them literally to the verbal force of Césaire’s poetry. Césaire’s landmark poem draws attention to the suffering of a people that have endured years of colonization and slavery, as he calls for collective emancipatory action. These same lines from Notebook of a Return to the Native Land also appear in Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks [4]. In fact, Fanon cites Césaire frequently in his book and hopes Césaire’s work will inspire African and diasporic intellectuals in the future. These lines have also inspired the title of a more recent movie, Un homme qui crie/ A screaming man (2010) from Mahamat-Saleh Haroun.

In La vie sur terre, Dramane’s return to a place that suffers is the motivation for his filming and raising awareness. However, the quote “a screaming man is not a dancing bear” implies that one may not exploit the suffering of others in a self-aggrandizing or sensational way. By filming his father’s village, Sissako bears the responsibility for representing the people of Sokolo with dignity and respect. In this sense, it is important to notice that it is precisely Dramane who appears visually as we hear these lines: he becomes then an object of representation or “makes a spectacle of himself”. By doing so, he redefines his own position to the village but also rearticulates his relation to Europe. Indeed, how should he film a familiar place that has become more and more distant? How should he film coming from France without subjecting Sokolo to an “exotic” gaze?

In Sissako’s film, more than a convenient narrative device, the director’s presence appears as a way for him to legitimately film the village of Sokolo. It appears to be a method or even a work ethic. His return is indeed not really represented. Dramane is suddenly there, most of the time riding his bike or with his father. In an interview about Life on Earth, a journalist asked Sissako about his “omnipresence in his movies”: “Your omnipresence in the movies, is it a way to control them?” To that question, Sissako answered:

“No, on the contrary; when I become aware of it (of the fact that I tend to control the movie) I feel uncomfortable, because it is not my intention; I will be less present in the future. In Life on Earth, it was only to be respectful to what I was filming. The topic was a return in a place where nobody films. I had to be myself an object.” [5]

13. Parallel to Dramane on the boat, a woman (Nana, the main female character as the viewer will learn later) is riding her bike on a road by the water’s edge, but in the opposite direction. The camera follows her as she passes women carrying buckets and a man with an umbrella. Her itinerary will narrowly cross paths with Dramane’s in the rest of the movie.

14. In the next scene at his father’s house, Dramane is writing in a notebook, his bike by his side. Although the viewer does not have access to what he is writing, his voiceover recites the letter he sent to his father announcing his return. He reemphasizes his desire to film Sokolo. Writing in a notebook reveals his affinity to Césaire and accentuates the introspective nature of his journey as he rethinks his relation with Sokolo to Europe. Rejecting Europe and “its mad rush,” he aligns his particular story with a deliberate anti-colonial stance that builds explicitly on Aimé Césaire’s literary works to stress the temporal and spatial divide between Europe and Africa. The colonial past still haunts the present. And the voiceover continues with a quote from “the poet”: .…

15. … “Europe convulsed in screams; the silent currents of despair fearfully pulling itself together and proudly overestimating itself.”

In a tracking shot, the camera moves from Dramane to a table full of books and a radio to his father. In this way the shot composition and camera movement establish an affective intellectual link and transmission of knowledge between Dramane and his father. Wearing glasses the father is reading in a dignified position (probably a book brought by Dramane), showing his receptivity to his son’s studies. He does not speak in the film, but the voice of his son speaks for him, as does the voice of Aimé Césaire through a voiceover.
16. Nana, smiling on her bike, enjoying her ride in the sun, representing an answer and a contrast to Europe and “its mad rush,” an image that then…

17. …cuts to Dramane on his bike. His voice still recites the letter informing the viewer that he sent books to be read on the community radio (Radio Sokolo), which will appear in later scenes.

18. A fixed establishing shot of the village center gives the viewer a village perspective. It shows a photographer and men sitting in the shade of a tree listening to the radio while goats are crossing the street with a cut to…

19. …. a close up on the sign of the radio ironically named: “Colonial Radio, voice of the rice fields.” ….

20. …. This is followed by the radio presenter opening the program “the spoken library.”

Radio is the mass medium in Africa with the widest geographical reach and the largest audience, compared to other media such as TV, newspaper, Internet etc. At the end of the 1980s the development of private sector media accompanied the movements for political liberation, advent of multi-parties and legal reform. Radio was seen as a tool of democratization and economic development [6]. In the year 2000, Mali had a thriving rural community radio-sector, with an estimated number of 121 community stations [7]. Broadcast in local languages, community radios reached a wide audience, especially in rural areas where people, for the most part, do not speak the official language (French), are illiterate, and do not have easy access to books. Radio is indeed an easy and cost effective source of information especially if, requiring the use of batteries, there is no access to electricity. Radio also mediates between written and oral language, as indicated in the title of the program, “the spoken library”; it offers a means of education, self-expression and communication, while also promoting the community’s history, music and oral tradition. Furthermore, community radio is accessible because it operates with minimal technological equipment and infrastructure.

For example, here the medium shot of the presenter, a recurrent shot in the film, displays a very basic recording setup consisting of microphone and transmission equipment. Through a gesture to the technical assistant, the presenter starts a jingle of Kora.

21. Farmers on little donkeys walk in sync to the light melody of the Kora, an instance of sound editing that connects successive shots together.

22. Another medium shot on the sign “Colonial Radio, voice of the rice fields” cuts to the presenter while he is introducing the reading of the day, an excerpt from Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism (1950). The audience, according to the presenter, might not know this particular work but knows the author (“our Martiniquan brother Aimé Césaire”) which places emphasis on the high recognition of Aimé Césaire in Africa (and maybe implying that it is not the first time that they read his work on the program). As a European voice recites the passage the radio presenter chose to broadcast from Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, it is implied that this work is a foundational text of anti-colonial and postcolonial literature, an irrevocable critique of European colonialism and their “civilizing” mission. The Discourse on Colonialism complements the themes developed in the Notebook. “Europe and its mad rush,” as broadcast by the community radio, in turn counters French International Radio.

23. While the passage is being broadcast on the radio, the presenter himself silently reads the books brought by Dramane, so that the scene integrates auditory and visual aspects of reading.

24. In the meantime, Dramane and another manare at the bike repair shop and seem absorbed in the radio book reading.

25. The next shot is of village merchants behind their table. The camera follows the airwaves; there is no causal effect between two shots; the sound is what links them. The radio serves to connect the images.

26. The camera then cuts to the post office while the audio continues reciting Césaire. Here again Césaire’s text playing on the soundtrack in the background through the radio gives another meaning to the man waiting. He, like Dramane in the previous shot, seems absorbed by Césaire’s speech; the coincidental shot (of the man in front of the camera) provides another resonance with Césaire’s speech as applied to the scenes of daily life.

27. A shot of the same employee next to a woman on the phone. In this shot the coincidental provokes a discrepancy, in contrast to the direct and strong voice of the woman. The traditional music of the Kora succeeds Aimee Césaire’s words.

28. While the woman is on the phone announcing the arrival of Nana, a low angle shot of a radio antenna alludes to the difficulties of communication from village to village by phone. One of the themes of the film, the village’s isolation, embodies Sissako’s larger commentary through Césaire’s discourse that communication with the rest of the world is made even more difficult, as Europe turns a deaf ear to the plight of Africa.

29 A/B/C. Nana is on her bike. The camera films her from left to right. As she appears in the frame of a broken wall, she slightly veers her head and enticingly rings her bike’s bell. The camera pauses while Nana is continuing her ride. The frame remains empty for a fraction of a second until Dramane also appears (from left to right) in the frame trailing behind her. Then a panoramic view reframes placing the two characters, Nana and Dramane, in the center of the shot. Dramane might have accelerated his ride to join Nana. But the absence of perspective and the pause in the tracking shot create a light suspense; the film lightly sets up a possible atmosphere of romantic pursuit. Dramane brakes in front of her and they start what appears to be a cordial and slightly flirtatious conversation.

Dramane is in the village of his father. But he is also a foreigner, living in Europe and coming back just for a little time. Nana is from the next village. She is staying at her aunt’s home. Both outsiders to the village, they are mainly filmed in motion on their bikes; they create curiosity in the eyes of the inhabitants of Sokolo. Their foreign status also serves to heighten the significance of exterior relationship to the village at a local and global level.

30. In the village center, the photographer is getting his apparatus ready, as his day of work begins.

31 A/B/C. Nana is at the tailor. Her image appears again framed by the tailor’s entrance as she is being measured for new clothes. A close up shows her smiling as she glances at the camera or potentially the photographer peering in from a long reverse shot. The image carries its own mystery. The viewer must decipher the meaning. Here again one could see the director’s stylistic method: He does not impose meaning and modes of representation upon what he came to film. He raises questions and promotes thought rather than give interpretations or answers. The scene features a rare close up that captures Nana’s beauty and seduction, maybe an answer to Césaire’s line, “to your hideous open wounds.” Indeed, the director’s choice to privilege medium shots and wide angle shots as opposed to close ups is to respect a certain distance, not intruding upon the intimacy of the village life. Visually he observes from a distance and lets various movements (bikes, animals, people walking…) enter the camera’s field of vision. The photographer in the following shot is combing his hair and grooming, perhaps as a response to Nana’s smile or in preparation for his day’s work.
32. Women pass by tranquilly on donkeys from off screen followed by a lumbering man. The live sound of the village establishes the slow pace of the daily rhythm. Just as a man walking and listening to a radio on his shoulder, the sound of the radio transitions to….

33 A/B/C. …the radio station and presenter, who has a guest speaker that will later talk about the dilemma of birds eating the village crops. The guest speaker looks around slightly which brings the camera to a close up: a poster of the British royal family that seems out of place amongst old broken radios hanging on the wall. The sound of a plucking stringed instrument then leads to….

34 A/B/C. …. a high angle wide shot that moves from the radio station to the main village square. The shot is of a photographer and men sitting in the shade of a tree listening to the radio while farm animals are crossing by. This wide-angle shot and fixed image allows emphasis on the village’s movements. It shows the movements of Dramane and Nana who missed each other cycling through the village square. It shows movement of goats and cattle and some people, contrasting with the immobility of others: men sitting in the shade of an overhanging roof built of straw. A temporal rhythm is set up for the film. The film progresses in close communion with people’s daily life in public space in the Malian village, dominated by a certain sense of drowsiness, yet also filled with the normal village movement and activities.

35 A/B. The following scene creates a whimsical atmosphere of comical misunderstanding: a man and the photographer are conversing holding a magazine and seem to comment on a “beautiful Japanese” woman …which a close up reveals to be a car. Daily life provides the viewer with a bit of lighthearted comic relief.

36. In the next scene, the camera captures Dramane in an everyday routine, in an outside bathroom. He appears suddenly from behind the mud wall, shaving.
37. Nana is riding her bike in a street of Sokolo. She is smiling and dressed in her new outfit. The scene is quite familiar; the viewer is now accustomed to seeing Nana on her bike riding in the village. But it is also slightly different for the mise en scène. She rides toward the camera, suggesting the idea of a destination in a rather narrow street.

38 A/B. Nana stops in front of Dramane who smiles as he sees her. Nana enters the frame. They initiate a conversation, first starting with traditional greetings and moving on to a more intimate interaction. The setting reinforces the sensuality of the scene: Dramane’s chest is both completely exposed and at the same time concealed. The disposition of the scene, a wall separating the two protagonists and concealing Dramane’s body, creates a sense of discrepancy but also opposition: Dramane is placed a little higher in the image and Nana is slightly below. Dramane is limited in his movements by the wall and shaving, whereas Nana on her bicycle is likely to depart at anytime; Nana is very well dressed and Dramane is half naked with his face covered in lather. Under this coincidental and traditional mutual ceremony of greeting, a seduction scene is taking place. The dialogue also reflects ambivalence, as Nana does not want to reveal where she lives, nor is Dramane prepared to meet her somewhere.

A close up of the mirror gives a subjective sense to the scene: the camera takes Dramane’s point of view. However the exchange of looks is mediated by a mirror, in which the viewer can see Dramane’s reflection. The indirect camera-view of the actor-director, even if he is looking at Nana and not at the viewer, creates a layered and elaborate image of different perspectives that unfold in sobriety and simplicity.

39. Back at the post office, the phone rings, and the traditional soundtrack string music starts playing. A certain Marie is calling from Paris for Dramane. The postmaster asks her to call back in 10 minutes.

40. Someone is buying a cigarette from the street merchant. The radio is on and the presenter informs the listener that he has to stop the program:

“ I have to end our program now. It’s time for me to return to my duties: chasing the birds.”

This reveals that the presenter is a volunteer on the community radio, further emphasizing that it functions on limited and unstable resources.

41 A/B/C. After a few shots in the radio station, the next scene changes to a fixed shot of a little boy (seen previously at the post-office) playing soccer. Like the previous scene with Nana on her bike, the camera is fixed and the little boy is coming toward the camera. The traditional music from the radio plays, establishing continuity. The boy’s soccer ball is hitting Dramane’s father’s bed. The simplicity of the scene results in a coincidental action, that sets up a subplot between the characters. Such sobriety and sophistication within the setting, like the whole movie, are seemingly part of an intended formal simplicity, but these coincidental actions also create profound and elaborate layers of representations open to the viewers’ interpretations.

42. Back at the post office, the International French Radio broadcast announces that the new millennium will occur in 14 hours. The message on the radio and the images of daily activities in Sokolo create a disjunction between the peaceful village life and a distant Europe that is invisible yet omnipresent. The temporal tension (where are we going to be in 2000?) is subverted within itself. Inhabitants of Sokolo are not expecting great change at the passage of the millennium.

43 A/B/C/E/F/G. The camera tracks from men sitting listening to International French radio, to the photographer, to merchants by the tree, and finally to a donkey carriage and Dramane on his bike, as the radio continues to describe the celebrations of the millennium in Paris:

“In Paris, thousands are expected to attend local dances and fireworks displays. Huge crowds are expected at the Eiffel Tower. For 1000 days, it has been counting down to the year 2000.”

The only countdown in the village of Sokolo is a barrel falling off a donkey cart.

44. Men are drinking tea, listening to the radio. The recurring shot is from a slight and subtle variation of angle. Nana again passes by, creating curiosity as some of the men turn their heads to follow her ride.

45. Dramane is at the post office and could not return his call to Marie in Paris. If news from Paris reaches the village, the return communication does not seem to function: “It’s hard to reach people. It’s a question of luck,” remarks the postmaster, as the film insists upon the coincidental aspect of communication.

46 A/B. In the next scene, the photographer is taking a picture of a woman and the soundtrack of traditional music begins. Dramane rides his bike in the background. The following shot is a frontal view of the women that corresponds to the photographer’s perspective. His camera, an old yellow model, can recall “the lumière box camera” evoking cinema’s origin [8]. The photographer’s old camera participates in the various plays on reflections, mirror images, and frames within frames that occur throughout the movie. These different layers of representations or mise en abîmes create an ambiguity and frustrate the idea of authenticity as they destabilize meanings of representations. Often these compositions underline the contrived aspect of visual representation. Like the radio, which chronicles the daily life of villages or capitals, the photographer also captures an image of the village reality: he participates in the mediation between reality and its reflection, and he contributes to the unstable genre of documentary fiction. [9]

47 A/B. In this shot, the mise en abîme reaches a third layer as the camera and photographer are filmed through the hairdresser’s mirror. The noise of the scissors accompanies the background music. As Nana passes on her bike, seen in the mirror, the camera turns to the hairdresser from where the noise of the scissors originates. The hairdresser is following her passing on the bike reinforcing again the men’s seductive curiosity towards Nana.
48. A villager voices in Bambara the problem of the birds eating the rice crop and political authorities’ indifference and lack of action. Men sitting by the wall listen to the broadcast as the shade decreases. Back at the radio, the presenter acknowledges the complaint.

49. Back at the post office, communication is still not working. A man is trying to call a store.

50 A/B/C/D/E. The next scene is comprised of different shots in and around the village linked together by the stringed instrument as the sunlight declines. The repeated long shot of the men moving their chairs into the shade re-emphasizes the impression of slowness and progression of time. There is a tracking shot of Dramane on his bike, followed by a wide angle shot at the river outside the village. The successive images give a sense of harmony between the village and its surroundings. The space is harmonious and much goes on within it in an integral flow of activity. The constant movements and animals connect spaces within and outside the village. No areas seem inaccessible, protected or forbidden. Only the birds threatening the crops serve to counterbalance the harmony of the integrated landscape.

51 A/B. 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.

52 A/B/C. 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…

53 A/B. 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 smiling with his ball and playing with the stamps of the post office.

54 A/B/C/D/E/F. 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…

55 A/B. … 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…

56. …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.

57. 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.”

58. The camera 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.”

59 A/B. 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.”

60. 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.

61. 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.

62. 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.
63 A/B. 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.

64. 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.”

65 A/B/C. 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.

66 A/B. 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.

67 A/B/C. 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 from 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.

68. 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.

69. 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.”

70. 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.

71. Men are standing to escape the sun, holding their radio. A soundtrack of a Schubert Quintet announces a dramatic and emotional situation to come.

72. A/B/C. The camera cuts to a medium shot of Dramane’s bike and a hat indicating his presence where?. 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. It 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.

73. 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.

74. 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.”

75 A/B/C. 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.”

76 A/B/C. 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…

77. …. 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.

78. 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.

79 A/B. A long shot of a sun damaged wall cuts to a close up of the father 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.”

80 A/B. 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.”

81 A/B/C. 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….
82 A/B. …. 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.

83. Nana is pumping her bike tire, foreshadowing her departure that cuts to…

84 A/B/C. … 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.

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

86. 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 text of visual essay]

[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.

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