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50 minutes, 2004, Burkina Faso
Director: Apolline Traore, Producer:Idrissa Ouedraogo
Jula with English subtitles

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The award-winning Kounandi is that rarest of films : a film about African women by an African woman. It is the first major film by young Burkinabe director Apolline Traoré and was produced by celebrated director Idrissa Ouedraogo. The film makes a significant contribution to the tendency in African filmmaking, identified by Manthia Diawara as ‘a return to the sources.’ These films, characteristically set in simpler, pre-colonial village society, are told in the style of folktales. Kounandi is an adult fairy tale about love and the sacrifices it sometimes asks of us, but it also dares to address social conflict and prejudices.

Kounandi’s biological mother, a stranger to the village, dies in childbirth. The infant is named Kounandi, or ‘one who brings luck’, by the village chief and is adopted by Miriam and Moussa, an unhappy childless couple. Kounandi’s name becomes ironic because in adulthood she is a dwarf, traditionally regarded as a symbol of bad luck. Yet, Miriam and Kounandi develop a close relationship, especially since the impotent, insecure and drunken Moussa is abusive to both of them. When the frustrated Miriam has an affair and prepares to leave the household with her boyfriend and Kounandi, Moussa shoots his wife. Kounandi is left homeless when Moussa evicts her from his compound.

She is befriended by a handsome young man, Karim, who builds a miniature house for her behind his own. She earns her living making delicious cup cakes with a cast iron pan, the sole legacy of her birth mother. Naturally she falls in love with Karim only to discover that he is married to the sickly Awa who is away being attended to by a healer. When Awa returns she is jealous of Kounandi and tries to make cakes herself but hers are inedible. Awa’s health continues to deteriorate and Karim is inconsolable. Then one night Awa and Kounandi meet before the sacred baobab tree; a bolt of lightening strikes. The next morning Kounandi is found in her house serenely laid out in death while Awa has been restored to perfect health; later even her cakes take on Kounandi’s culinary magic.

From the point of view of ‘political correctness’ the sacrifice of the ‘tragic’ dwarf to the happiness of average sized people may seem somewhat problematic - even more so because Awa ‘inherits’ Kounandi’s good health. In any case, the story’s end makes perfect sense in the structure of the fairy tale; it restores the status quo, the dyadic marital unit, a happy couple - and a wife who can even cook.
"A magical short feature...One of the finest African films in years."
The Village Voice
"A poignant portrait of loss, love and self-sacrifice from an African woman’s perspective. Apolline Traoré demonstrates a deft hand for drama and an exciting new African filmic voice."
Dr. Sheila Petty, University of Regina
"A compact fairy tale about the suspicion and acceptance of outsiders."
The New York Times

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