Africa’s ‘Cannes moment’ opens with tribute to Malian great Souleymane Cissé

A record number of African films at the 76th Cannes Film Festival have sparked talk of a new generation of female directors driving a renaissance in filmmaking on the continent. Fittingly, this year’s Carrosse d’Or Award, part of Directors’ Fortnight, was awarded to Mali’s Souleymane Cissé, a veteran director who has reinvented cinema as an African art form.

After celebrating the last breath of Europe’s decaying aristocracy in Johnny Depp’s controversial opener “Jeanne Dubarry,” the world’s brightest cinematic extravaganza officially kicked off Wednesday with a series of big and small New and old movies gathered together, cheers from all corners of the world.

In the flagship Palme d’Or competition, Japan’s 2018 winner was Hirokazu Kore-eda for a Rashomon-esque take on “Monster,” about the disturbing behavior of a young boy, and France’s Catherine Corsini in her take on Corsi Kajima-set family drama “Homecoming,” hit the red carpet, has been controversial over allegations of harassment during filming.

Inside Cannes’ sprawling Palais des Festivals, distributors have announced a bumper edition of the all-important Cannes film market, a leading indicator of the industry’s health, with a record 13,500 delegates already registered as Asian companies return en Mass gathering after prolonged disruption caused by Covid.

In Japan, Hirokazu Kore-eda (right) poses with the cast of “Monster” before the film’s Cannes red carpet premiere. © Joel C Ryan, Associated Press

Along the Riviera town’s palm-lined promenade, films from Portugal, Malaysia, Britain and Cape Verde are screened, including Steve McQueen’s “The Occupied City,” which explores Nazi takeovers during World War II Amsterdam and the longest film of the year at just over four hours.

Meanwhile, festival-goers got the Nouvelle Vague the nostalgic treatment with a special 60th anniversary screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 classic, Contempt, one of the first films ever made about the film , which paints films as a corrupt world in which dodgy producers and screenwriters pimp their wives to help their careers – the soundtrack will stay with you forever.

Africa’s Cannes Moments

At this year’s festival, Cannes broke the record for female directors competing for the Palme d’Or, with seven of the 21 filmmakers nominated. Female directors also had two African entrants in the Palme d’Or competition, a large and young group from the continent, sparking talk of African cinema finally enjoying it. “The Cannes Moment”.

Tunisia’s Kaouther Ben Hania will make her first red carpet debut on Friday with her half-feature, half-documentary “Four Daughters,” about a mother’s struggle to find herself seduced by the Syrian jihad. daughter’s story. The next day, Senegalese newcomer Ramata-Toulaye Sy will present her tormented love story “Banel & Adama,” the only film debut in this year’s Palme d’Or competition.

Four years after Franco-Algerian director Mati Diop unexpectedly won the Grand Prix at Cannes for his debut film The Atlantic, the selection of Ben Hania and Sy marks the excellence of African cinema Version. It also hinted at a belated recognition for a continent that still won the Palme d’Or only once, back in 1975 with Algerian director Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina’s “Chronique des Années de Braise” (The Chronicle of the Year of Fire).

A Cannes Un Certain Regard sidebar dedicated to emerging talent will screen four other African entries. Moroccan helmsmen Asmae El Moudir (“Mother of Lies”) and Kamal Lazraq (“The Hound”) look at everyday life and the underworld in Casablanca, while Congolese hip-hop artist Balogi tells the story of a child wizard in his debut feature ,”omen”. One of the most anticipated works is Mohamed Kordofani’s “Goodbye Julia,” which explores the roots of the chaos currently sweeping Sudan.

There was also a midnight screening of “Omar la Fraise” (The King of Algiers) by Franco-Algerian director Elias Bekeddar, set in Algeria, and starring Reda Kateb as an exiled gangster trying to get back into the ring.

African films also feature prominently in this year’s parallel selection, Directors’ Fortnight, Critics’ Week and Acid sidebars, with films from Cameroon (“Mambar Pierrette”), Tunisia (“Machtat”), Guinea-Bissau (“Nome”) and Egypt (“Eissa”) – The latter two help broaden the range, which is otherwise heavily skewed toward French-speaking African countries.

Tribute to Cisse

The richness and diversity of the films on offer is a source of “pride and confidence” for Aïssatou Diallo Sagna, the French actress of Guinean origin who serves as the “godmother” of this year’s African Pavilion in Cannes, an event housed in Cannes’ Hive Festival Center of International Village.

“I think a lot of people are still unfamiliar with African cinema and its diversity,” Diallo Sagna, who starred in Corsini’s “Homecoming,” said at a cocktail reception for the pavilion’s launch explain. “They’ll be able to discover new forms of filmmaking, new aspects of cinema.”

Few films have opened up more horizons than 1987’s “Iren” (Light), a riveting masterpiece that instantly transformed Malian filmmaker Suleiman Cissé into a darling of Western arthouse cinema.

cannes film festival
cannes film festival © Studio graphique France Médias Monde

A deeply spiritual work rooted in the oral tradition of pre-colonial Africa, Iren has been hailed as a liberating breakthrough for cinema on the continent and a reinvention of cinema as an African art form. It won the Jury Prize at Cannes, a first on the African continent.

Despite its mystical symbolism, Cisse’s masterpiece remains firmly grounded in reality, with a powerful political message reminiscent of his earlier social realist works, Including his 1975 debut feature “Den Muso” (Young Girl), a film that owes his training to the Soviet Union in the 1960s.

“Den Muso,” the harrowing story of the rape and subsequent ostracism of a young girl in Bamako, foreshadowed Cisse’s then-groundbreaking critique of patriarchal structures (which led to a stint in prison for the director and, in his motherland). It had a rare screening at the start of the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes on Tuesday, a prelude to the Carrosse d’Or awards ceremony.

“Movies are about reaching people”

Addressing the audience after the screening, Cisse said he had chosen to silence his heroine as a symbol of female silence. Asked if the situation in his native Mali had improved, he said that since his first work there had been limited progress in women’s emancipation.

“Male domination is so entrenched that it takes something radical to really change things — in Mali or anywhere in the world,” he said. “Whether it’s male domination, white domination, or subservience to capitalism, injustice is the real atrocity. All my films contain a revolt against injustice.”

Souleymane Cissé addressed the audience after the screening "Dian Wushuang" Directors' Fortnight at Cannes.
Souleymane Cissé addresses the audience after a screening of ‘Den Muso’ at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes. © Benjamin Dodman, France 24

Speaking to FRANCE 24 earlier this year during the Fespaco film festival in Ouagadougou, the Malian director spoke of his desire to see African cinema “come out of the bottle, go far, to places where people never Thought of where to watch movies from our continent”.

It was a theme he repeated at Cannes, though he hailed a record number of African films this year — “even more so, because so many are directed by women”.

Cisse laments lingering “contempt” and reluctance to release African films in the West. So, he said, “we’re still not on a level playing field, which is wrong, because movies are precisely about reaching people.”

“Movies can help people understand our continent better,” he added. “Denying people to see the film only fuels the misunderstanding.”

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