ORUsmane Sembène, the “father of African cinema,” tells a story of Jonsonian desolation over human nature with his 1968 film Mandabi, or The Money Order, adapted from his own novel and now in reissue. As with much of the rest of his work, and especially his earlier film Le Noire De … (1966), it deals with colonialism and Africa’s relationship with France, although a 21st century audience might read it specifically as one. parable of globalization, and what happens when a poor country exiles its cheap labor to rich countries with the expectation that they will send money home?
Makhourédia Guèye plays Ibrahim: a vain and vain man with two wives, Méty (Ynousse N’Diaye) and Aram (Isseu Niang) and seven children in a village outside Dakar, Senegal. The first time we see him, Ibrahim is being shaved by a barber and he is cutting the hideous hair on his nose. Later he eats greedily to the point of indigestion and settles down for a nap instead of going to the mosque to pray; He is always burping, coughing, grimacing, and when massaged, he seems horribly to break the wind.
Then his world is turned upside down by the postman, who announces that Ibrahim has received a letter and a money order for 25,000 francs from his nephew who lives and works in Paris. The post office interpreter who later reads this letter to him reveals that this young worker is asking Ibrahim to keep 20,000 for him when he returns; Give 3,000 to his mother and keep 2,000 for him.
But Ibrahim can’t collect the money without an ID card and he needs to get all kinds of documents to get one, causing a fatal delay; The exciting news of his sudden wealth has driven thieves and predators out of the woodwork, encouraged, of course, by Ibrahim and his own wives, who are using the news of this money order to buy things on credit. There are also honest and dishonest salesmen (strangely, a bra salesman) and beggars, whom Ibrahim has to fire, advised by his wives: “If you try to help nine poor men, you will soon become the tenth.” Soon his sister (Thérèse Bas) appears, whom the greedy Ibrahim has not thought for a moment since he received the money order, demanding to know where his 3,000 francs are. And with a terrible inevitability, Ibrahim is cheated out of cash.
The biggest formal coup of the film is the scene in which Sembène offers us a small montage of the life of the nephew in Paris, under his voice-over, in which he seriously says that he will not “rebel” or “go astray” but you will work hard. because there is no work in Senegal. It is as if Senegal has exported its youth, its idealism and its optimism and, in exchange, imported cash that only causes bitterness. It is an alienated society. The men are cynical or rascal, or they are simply disoriented and weak like Ibrahim, or they are simply overwhelmed by a kind of lassitude and boredom: there are a lot of apathetic sleepers in the sun.
Mandabi presents an excellent performance by Guèye, who is innocent and guilty at the same time. It is a peaceful cinema, at a walking pace, which takes us by the hand from panel to panel, from scene to scene, presented with ingenious simplicity and serenity.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism