Camp de Thiaroye (Ousmane Sembene & Thierno Faty Sow / Algeria-Senegal-Tunisia, 1987):

Back from campaign in WWII Europe, the Senegalese infantrymen come to Dakar wearing borrowed U.S. Army khakis and are tucked away at the eponymous "transit camp" before returning to their villages. The "repatriation" process overseen by French rulers is the thrust of the 1944 anecdote, calibrated from bitter barracks comedy to wry tragedy by Ousmane Sembene and Thierno Faty Sow. Colonial rule is no different from prison bondage to homecoming soldiers, one former Buchenwald detainee (Sijiri Bakaba) numbly runs his palm over the campís barbed wire fence and is unconvinced when told heís back on African soil. The platoonís sergeant (Ibrahima Sane) arrives with a picture of the Parisian gal he married abroad, an unforgivable act to his racist superiors as well as to his family, whose village was razed during the Vichy regime. Familiar with wartime French culture (Vercors' Le Silence de la Mer sits on his bookshelf, Le Corbeau was "a beautiful film"), Sane is that loathed military figure, the "intellectual"; giving away his native status by ordering a Pernod, heís kicked out of the local brothel and stomped on by a black American MP. The men return the favor by kidnapping a white Yankee grunt, eventually things are straightened out and the allies exchange salutes. "These Americans are crazy!" "These French are out of control!" The soldiers are fed lousy grub, forced back into their old colonial uniforms, and have their wages cut in half -- the war at home is above all a psychological one over identity, Sembene understands it and the sergeant voices it ("We are not French citizens. We are French subjects"). Survival means not merely enduring but prevailing, Faulkner says, and the hostage-scrambling that was comical earlier turns sober as rebellion erupts. A note of Eisenstein is adduced in the climactic slaughter, which exposes the face of oppression in the battle both within and without. With Mohamed Camara, Ismaila Cissť, Pierre Orma, and Jean-Daniel Simon.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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