Abderrahmane Sissako’s Waiting for Happiness is an elegiac portrait of a transit city on the West African coast struggling against foreign influences. Abdallah (Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamed) returns to his homeland for an indeterminate amount of time. Now a stranger to his own community and language, the young man tries to absorb as much local color (literally and figuratively) before embarking for Europe. (Given the spare use of dialogue and emphasis on poetic vistas, the film brings to mind Claire Denis’s Beau Travail.) If the film’s Mauritanian port city becomes a desert purgatory between the North and the South then its rootless characters are not unlike ghosts suffocated by their geographic not-being. Colossal sand dunes around the periphery of the town and abandoned ships on the ocean horizon evoke far-off heavens. The town is a vacuum into which this distant civilization drops its cultural baggage (karaoke music, television sets). “One of the dramas of Africa is that its people are rarely confronted by its own image,” says Sissako. A young girl and her mother chant and pluck at a homemade guitar for the entirety of the film; this is their resistance to cultural invasion. When a body washes ashore, Sissako suggests the fragility of this struggle, and when a young orphan boy and his mentor try to supply the town with electricity their struggle proves futile. Sure, their electrical cords are long enough but there’s no passion in their battle. Sissako frequently cuts to Abdallah reading by sunlight (for him, there’s no substitute for nature’s power source). The old man walks into the desert with a light bulb in his hand. He dies and the bulb gradually lights up: a devastating transference of power between a spirit and the outside culture that sucks on its marrow.
- New Yorker Films
- 95 min
- Abderrahmane Sissako
- Abderrahmane Sissako
- Khatra Ould Abder Kader, Maata Ould Mohamed Abeid, Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamed, Nana Diakité, Fatimetou Mint Ahmeda, Makanfing Dabo
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