Africa on Crutches By Dragan Rubesa

in 20th Fribourg International Film Festival

by Dragan Rubesa

In two African films shown at the Fribourg Film Festival, hyena is used as a metaphor. Apart from the Senegalese Journey of the Hyena (Touki Bouki, directed by Djibril Diop Mambety), which has stirred many controversies when it was released in the beginning of the seventies, although his rhetoric is still actual nowadays, the same animal is mentioned in the impressive first feature film The Night of the Truth (La nuit de la vèritè) made by Fanta Regina Nacro, a young and very talented director from Burkina Faso.

Blending the personal and the political, she wrote the film in collaboration with Marc Gautron in memory of her uncle who was literally cooked on a barbecue, accused of having stirred up a coup. In this case, the film should be regarded as some kind of intimate catharsis, while the hyena swallowing the sun appeared in the president’s wife dream, as a premonition of a tragedy. In her film, the uncle is substituted by the colonel who was the leader of rebel army in a bloody civil war against the president’s ethnic group. Now the two different groups, the Nayaks and the Bonanes, are organizing a feast of reconciliation, although a vivid memory of atrocities committed on both parts puts their shaky peace treaties in question. Soon the feast transformed in the ultra violent theater of blood, worthy of the cruel Elizabethan drama, followed by a cannibalistic orgy of vendetta, barbecue included.

In the genesis of the African film, violence has never been depicted so graphically, especially in the scenes shown in flashback involving the colonel’s brutality. When the severed heads roll down the waterfall in one of the most evocative scenes, they looked terribly real and scary, surpassing even the best Hollywood make-up artist. Where her conational Flora Gomes is polished, Fanta is crude and unapologetic. She does not use the folklore and murals as yet another example of ethnic chic, but they are strongly related to the story. Even the president’s final decision to use violence in order to save the peace, cannot be truly regarded as optimistic. And when one of the protagonists suggests that the imaginary ethnic groups of Nayaks and Bonandes should be joined together as Bonayaks, such a cynical remark is universal and could be applied to any ethnic group who immersed the hands in blood up to the elbows. For example, Tutsi and Hutu may become Tutu.

As in Hubert Saupert’s mesmerizing no-global documentary Darwin’s Nightmare, in which the hyena is substituted by another predator according to the rules of New World Order, Fanta’s Africa walks on crutches. Maybe the power of the songs showing the social and cultural reality of Madagascar in the moving documentary Mahaleo made by Cesar Paes and Raymond Rayaonarivelo, could be treated as the most helpful therapy. In a festival with strong activist and political approaches, the meaning of the film’s title, which can be translated as free, independent and autonomous, is more than significant.