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(May 31, 2005)
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Sembene's second feature unlocked for the first time the complex daily world of modern Africa. This story of a man who receives a money order and, in his attempts to cash it, encounters an intimidating barrage of Third World bureaucracy, becomes a witty, masterful portrait of an ancient civilization in the throes of change.
Receiving the dubious windfall at first seems a blessing to Ibrahima Dieng, who lives with his two wives and their seven children. However, as the tale unfolds, the seemingly easy transaction threatens to destroy the traditional fabric of his life. Quickly, the whole neighborhood becomes aware of it, the wives buy provisions on credit, their parents ask for a share and people try to extort him for money - all the while, his attempts to cash the piece of paper turn futile.
MANDABI is a warm, subtle comedy with a series of visual revelations about a civilization struggling to recapture its own rich heritage after a century of colonial corruption.
Like many men in late-1960s Dakar, Ibrahima Dieng (Makhouredia Gueye) has been without a job for years. With nine mouths to feed--two wives and seven children--he could use a break. One day, he receives a letter from his nephew Abdou in Paris. Enclosed is a mandabi, or money order, for 25,000 francs. The funds are to be divided between several family members. Trying to cash it, however, quickly becomes a comedy of errors. First, Dieng needs to secure an identity card, then a birth certificate, and so forth (the fact that he can't read certainly doesn't help). Meanwhile, word has been spreading about his good fortune and everyone wants a piece. Ousmane Sembene's follow-up to Black Girl--and first in the Wolof dialect--uses humor to depict the plight of a proud and simple man caught between two worlds, an ineffectual colonial past and a corrupt bureaucratic present. --Kathleen C. FennessySee all Editorial Reviews
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Top customer reviews
"Mandabi" is not really a comedy, except in the sense of a comedy of errors or a very dark comedy. It is the heartbreaking story of Ibrahima, a poor, naive man who thinks he has gotten a break when his nephew sends him a money order from Paris, but . . .
Ibrahima can't cash the money order without an ID card.
He can't get an ID card without a birth certificate.
He can't get a birth certificate because he doesn't know his exact birth information.
He struggles to find a solution to his problem, but his solutions make his problem worse.
Ibrahima can't read and doesn't speak French, so he must rely on Westernized or educated Senegalese to help him. But they take advantage of his naivete and ignorance of the system to rob him of the little money he has. Meanwhile, as word of his new-found fortune spreads around his poor neighborhood, everyone he knows comes asking for money, and it is hard for him to say "no."
The product description says that the film is "about a civilization struggling to recapture its own rich heritage after a century of colonial corruption." This is not really an accurate description of the movie. It is more about the venality, corruption, difficulty, and meanness of life in Senegal in the 1960s.
If there are notable flaws with the movie, they are its pacing and the subtitles. The movie is slow, sometimes very slow. Scenes of action and dialogue are separated by long, ruminative camera shots accompanied by kora music. But a bored viewer can easily fast-forward through those. Also, the subtitles are quite old and done in narrow, white typeface, making them hard to read at times.
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