Important Globalization Film Finally Available on DVD

BAMAKO (aka The Court)

2006,115 mins., NR
Director: Abderrahmane Sissako
Screenplay: Abderrahmane Sissako

In an open courtyard in Bamako, the capital and largest city of Mali, an unprecedented (and of course unlikely and impossible) trial of the World Bank is underway, with prosecutors, defense lawyers, and formally attired judges, all of them in front of an audience—besides us, the viewers, the real jury?–of average folk from the community. Witnesses tell of the failures in social services because of the enforced privatization of previously public functions, such as health services and the rail transportation.

In the meantime, a cabaret singer, married folk, and spectators both idle and attentive, hang their wash, gossip, and strut their stuff (one recurring joke is the sexy woman who insists on having her dress straps tied behind her in front of everyone at the beginning of every court session). In the adjoining rooms a child and an adult both lie ill–the child never wakes up–and another man commits suicide, an act that seems to bring the trial to an abrupt end without a verdict (as if a verdict were likely or possible), even though both sets of advocates have given their closing speeches. The presiding judge remains mute.

What are the arguments of this unique trial? The defense explains that it would not be in the interest of the World Bank to destroy a country’s economy. The prosecutors want the World Bank to be sentenced to “community service” for “eternity” and to cancel Africa’s debt. Of the various testimonies by witnesses, perhaps the most memorable is that of a peasant who is first told not to speak early on but finally chants his testimony—the only “speech” not subtitled, presumably because its plaintive sound speaks the message sufficiently. (We never know what he really says.)

This could only be called a charming but deeply moving anti-globalization film. Characteristic of Abderrahmane Sissako’s slightly off-kilter style–his earlier films, “Life on Earth” and “Waiting for Happiness,” share some of Sissako’s leisurely exploration of social malaise—“Bamako” is nonetheless sui generis.

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