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85 minutes, 1997, Senegal Director: Moussa Sene Absa in French and Wolof with English subtitles
ABOUT THE FILM
Moussa Sene Absa's most recent film dissects the social chaos engulfing much of Africa through the story of an idealistic young politician's rise and fall.
Tableau Ferraille offers an intimate view of how modernization, at least as practiced in today's Africa, corrodes traditional communities and retards grassroots development. Like such past Senegalese masterpieces as Ousmane Sembene's Xala and Djibril Diop Mambety's Hyenas, it deplores a corrupt post-colonial elite's exploitation of the promise of African independence.
The films opening shot presents a "tableau" of its larger theme - a beach beside a glittering seal littered with junk. The camera lingers on a barrel - which we learn much later contained radioactive waste illegally dumped by the town's leading citizen. This Tableau Ferraille, the director's home , whose name means appropriately "scrap heap" or "scene of junk." It contrasts markedly to his nostalgic view of his youth in his first feature Ça twiste ŕ Poponguine.
Moussa Sene Absa structures (one is tempted to say choreographs) his film to contrast two possible development paths for Africa: one towards self-reliance and social cohesion, the other towards self-interest and social chaos. In Tableau Ferraille, Daam, a well-intentioned but vacillating European-trained politician, must choose between these two social paradigms clearly exemplified by his two wives. His first wife, Gagnesiri, is a dignified village woman, dedicated to husband, family and community. She may represent Africa with its vast unrealized potential, waiting patiently, perhaps too patiently, for politicians and technocrats like Daam to develop her potential.
Daam and Gagnesiri are, revealingly, incapable of conceiving a child, so Daam's machismo compels him to take a second wife, Kiné, a beautiful, well-connected, western educated woman, eager to marry an ambitious young politician. Unlike Gagnesiri, Kiné chafes under the restrictions of domestic life. She wants to open an art gallery and travel abroad, even chiding Daam for not using his position to acquire wealth like the other government ministers.
Like Kiné, Président and his corrupt cronies in Tableau Ferraille plan to use their connections with Daam to enrich themselves. Président opens a sardine cannery with a government subsidy, builds himself a fancy house, wins lucrative export contracts and fires local workers when they try to unionize. Président represents the new breed of American-style entrepreneurs that free market ideologues see as the great hope for African economic growth.
Daam, played by music superstar Ismaël Lö, is an equivocal character, a conciliator who avoids conflict to be popular with everyone, a kind of Senegalese Bill Clinton. Nearly forty years after independence, Daam's shallow political program is simply "to avoid chaos." and he mistakenly relies on suspect foreign aid and shady businessmen like Président to achieve it. Daam's disastrous domestic and political choices converge when Président bribes the disgruntled Kiné to steal secret documents so he can make the winning bid for a lucrative bridge construction contract. Daam, of course, comes under suspicion of favoritism and his former friends turn on him. Kiné escapes to a waiting Swiss bank account and Président replaces Daam as the political leader of Tableau Ferraille. A broken man, Daam resigns, takes to drink and is driven with his still loyal wife, Gagnesiri, from the village.
On their way out of town in a horsecart loaded with all their possessions, Gagnesiri pauses at the grave of her one friend, Anta, while Daam sleeps on a bench outside. The entire film has actually been a series of flashbacks from this point as Gagnesiri comes to realize there is nothing more she can do for Daam and certainly nothing he can do for her. Here the narrative impulse passes from Daam and the (largely male) elite to Gagnesiri and grassroots Africa. In an unexpectedly feminist ending, the devoted wife leaves her dozing husband, marches majestically to the beach where the film began, commandeers a launch and sails towards the open sea.
Gagnesiri is accompanied by a group of fisherman who have appeared mysteriously throughout the film, separate yet commenting on it like a Greek chorus. Any Senegalese would immediately recognize them from their distinctive "patched" blue robes symbolizing frugality, as Bay Falls. More and more Senegalese (including the director's family) are turning to Islamic sects like the Bay Falls, or better-known Mourides, because their stress on hard work, mutual support and economic self-reliance appears to offer the only viable alternative to a hopelessly corrupt state and an increasingly anomic society. For Gagnesiri, leaving Tableau Ferraille rusting by the sea, the future is left less well defined. What is clear is that from now on she - and by extension grassroots Africa - must make that future for themselves.
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"Director Moussa Sene Absa's light often humorous approach, plus vibrant production values and a soundtrack to delight African music lovers, makes it a likely hit."
"Tableau Ferraille offers a masterful portrait of the pitfalls of economic development policies in Africa, highlighting the need to maintain Africa's traditional communitarian values against the rapacious greed of global capitalism."
James MacBean, author, Film + Revolution
"The find of the festival...A full-bodied study of ambition and corruption that doesn't seek to simplify matters."
"Tableau Ferraille is one of the pillars of the Third generation of Africian Cinema. Its fast narrative pace and concern with democracy and civil society anchor and define the film language for the new generation of African filmmakers."