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BAMAKO (Abderrahmane Sissako, Mali/USA/France 2009) PG
It's safe to say you've never seen a courtroom drama even remotely like this one. Set in the African country of Mali, the film puts on trial nothing less than the institutions of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. From the perspective of those testifying, these American-based organizations have wound up gutting their country's economy and natural resources... Instead of a physical structure, Sissako's courtroom is the open-air courtyard in the midst of a compound of houses in the town of Bamako. Black- and white-skinned judges and lawyers listen to the testimony of the local citizens, while the panoply of daily life goes on around them. Sophisticated arguments are passionately put forward as a group of workers makes batik cloth, a mother nurses a baby, one wedding procession passes, and another marriage slowly falls apart. The beauty of the film lies in these contrasts. Occasionally, counterarguments are proffered by the attorneys, and everyone seems to understand that the entire exercise and the court's ultimate decision will carry no weight in the world arena. Yet, the audacity of putting these institutions on trial is a satisfying provocation in itself... With Sissako's poetic blend of the humdrum and the theoretical, is altogether fascinating. Dramatic features born and bred on the African continent are rare commodities on these shores, and the opportunities they offer can stretch far beyond film appreciation and into the realm of world understanding.
- Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle.