93 minutes, 1995, Mali Producer/Director: Cheick Oumar Sissoko in Bambara and Peul with English subtitles
ABOUT THE FILM
Winner of the most prestigious award in African cinema, the Grand Prize at FESPACO '95, Guimba has been acclaimed as one of the most visually ravishing African films ever made. This epic allegory contrasts Africa's tremendous wealth and potential with its present poverty and plunder. Director Cheick Oumar Sissoko comments, "Guimba is a political film, a fable about power, its atrocities and its absurdities. I was personally influenced by what I experienced not long ago in Mali, but the ravages of power are, unfortunately, universal." The story has obvious parallels with the 1991 overthrow of Malian dictator Moussa Traore in which Sissoko was active.
Guimba tells the timeless tale of a tyrant's hubris and his downfall at the hands of his people, reminiscent of MacBeth or Richard III. The film's narrative embodies the process of revealing the truth from behind the facade of despotic power. For Guimba, the prince of a once prosperous trading city, the key to power is spectacle: humiliating court rituals, arbitrary displays of wrath, occult powers, even the terrifying mask which always covers his face. Guimba's authority begins to crumble when he demands that a nobleman divorce his wife so that his own son, the physical and moral dwarf, Janginé, can marry her. This ludicrous demand reveals him to the townspeople as a unrestrained beast not a prince; they jeer and defy him and abandon the city to join a rebel force. Isolated, his magic powers exhausted, driven-mad, Guimba is left with no alternative but to commit suicide.
Guimba is thus a story of the restoration of truth and legitimate authority to Djenné, the legendary city where the film was shot, and, allegorically, of democratic, "transparent" government to present-day Africa. In its opulence and epic scale, Guimba recalls and calls for the return of the continent's own former greatness and prosperity. Even, the film's striking costumes (themselves simultaneously veilings and statements) occasioned the revival of several traditional Malian textile crafts.
Sissoko notes that in Guimba he adapted to film two traditional Malian types of discourse used to "speak truth to power:" kotéba, a popular form of satiric street theatre, and baro, a virtuoso kind of public oratory. Thus Sissoko creates through his film not just an allegory of present-day African politics but a community of viewers prepared to mock illicit power whatever its trappings.
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"The highest quality ever seen in an African film...The atmosphere is pure magic...In a class by itself."
"Remarkable for its elegant simplicity...Deserves to be seen and savored by a large audience."
New York Post
"Not to be missed. The costumes are so eye-popping, the performances so full of life, the music so gorgeous that Guimba comes off the screen like a wave of pure pleasure. See Guimba!"
"The visual style is glorious and there is boundless energy and optimism in this fable of a tyrant overthrown."