Daily Archives: March 9, 2007

Trial of the Century (BAMAKO)

From the Chicago Reader (March 9, 2007). — J.R.



Before the main title of Abderrahmane Sissako’s startling new feature appears, an elderly farmer arrives at a hearing that’s being held in a shared backyard in a poor section of Bamako, the capital of Mali. He’s there to testify, but when he steps up to the microphone he’s told politely to remove his hat and wait his turn.

What’s on trial in this backyard court is globalization, particularly the high-interest loans of such organizations as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and the pressure they put on governments to cut costs by privatizing or ending social services and firing workers. Unlike the seemingly random everyday details that surround the mock trial — small talk, the performances of a pop singer in a club, the illness of the singer’s daughter, a wedding, clothes being dyed or hung out to dry — this public reckoning is obviously staged. A year before he began filming, Sissako hired the judge, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, real lawyers who wrote their own dialogue, mainly in French (we’re often reminded that Mali is a former colony of France).… Read more »


A large portion of this highly original 2006 feature from Mali by Abderrahmane Sissako (Life on Earth, Waiting for Happiness) consists of a hearing devoted to the operations of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Africa, with judge, black and white lawyers, and witnesses all played by nonactors who’ve written their own speeches, many of them angry. All this is set outdoors, in a backyard in a poor section of Bamako, the capital of Mali, and the remainder of the film is devoted to glimpses of everyday African life taking place around this event. Sissako scrupulously avoids making any facile connections between his two blocks of material, and his cast, even when silent, are always eloquent. In French and Bambara with subtitles. 117 min. (JR)… Read more »


A plane hijacker befriends a seven-year-old American boy, who serves as his voluntary hostage after a forced landing in Riga. Latvian filmmaker Leila Pakalnina likes to compose portions of her mise en scene in circular pans and other seemingly unmotivated camera movements, so part of the kick of her absurdist comedy and antithriller (2006) is that you’re never sure what’s coming next. Her Tatiesque pleasure in both animals and people is contagious. In English and subtitled Latvian. 74 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Iceberg

After a traumatic experience inside a frozen locker, the manager of a fast-food outlet leaves her family and heads north on a sailboat with a mute companion. Written and directed by three of the main performers (Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy) and working with a minimum of dialogue, this 2005 Belgian comedy wears its strangeness on its sleeve. I found it striking but often strident, and neither funny nor edifying. In French and Inuktitut with subtitles. 84 min. (JR)… Read more »

Me And My Sister

The French title of Alexandra Leclere’s 2004 debut feature translates as The Angry Sisters, but in fact only one of the siblings qualifies as such. Louise (Catherine Frot), a beautician from Le Mans, has written a first novel and comes to Paris to meet her publisher, full of positive energy; Martine (Isabelle Huppert), a miserable fussbudget, hates her upper-middle-class husband, her empty life, and herself, and her sister’s happiness fills her with rage. Leclere lays on the contrasts with a trowel, but each actress does a fine job making her character believable. In French with subtitles. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Red Road

If we agree that Rear Window, Blowup, The Conversation, and A Short Film About Love belong to the same erotic-thriller subgenre, then this adroit, sexually explicit Glasgow-based tale (2006) of an obsessive surveillance guard (Kate Dickie) tracking and stalking a locksmith and former convict (Tony Curran) qualifies as a minor entry, at least until it becomes an elusive psychological study. Despite the thick Scottish accents, filmmaker Andrea Arnold kept me intrigued, but beyond a certain point the movie’s ambiguity fades into indifference. 113 min. (JR)… Read more »

Mary Ellen Bute: Centennial

Short films made between 1934 and ’53 by the pioneering abstract animator Mary Ellen Bute (who years later created the daring James Joyce adaptation Passages From Finnegans Wake): Rhythm in Light, Dada, Spook Sport, Tarantella, Polka Graph, Abstronic, and Mood Contrasts. 70 min. (JR)… Read more »