Mandabi (France-Senegal, 1968):
(Le Mandat; The Money Order)

In Ousmane Sembčne's despairing satire (his first feature in both color and Wolof, the main language of his native Senegal), the X-ray gaze turns from the former European oppressors across the pond to the postcolonial seeds beginning to sprout back home. His outraged Everyman is a sixtysomething Dakar potbelly (Mamadou Gueye) playing master of the house in ill-fitting robes for his large brood (two wives, seven children). Boasting peacock pride despite four years of unemployment, he finds the sturdiness of his life dislodged by the arrival of a 20,000 franc money order from his nephew, a streetsweeper eking it out in Paris -- while his wives buy on credit and try to fend off a swarm of parasitic relatives, salesmen and debtors, Gueye gets lost in the maze of bureaucratic dead ends, rapacious con men and grasping cheats. The endless catch-22 of trying to cash in the order is grimly comic, but there's an angry streak to the humor -- each public office snafu is linked to a wider malaise, a national system that's a mere reprise of colonial oppression. As in his previous Black Girl, Sembčne charts the dehumanization of the bewildered protagonist, though the dislocation of the earlier film comes from memories of a culture that here is in danger of vanishing. The money order, with its connections to colonial France, may seem to carry with it almost virulent connotations, but Sembčne's critique is, as usual, double-edged: Gueye's illiterate, patriarchal complacency is as stunting to Senegal's culture as the uncaring bureaucracy replacing the old rule. In a nation where begging has virtually become an occupation, the radicality of change is the only way out. With Ynousse N'Diaye, Isseu Niang, Mustapha Ture, Thérčse Bas, and Sembčne himself as a public scribe.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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