Xala (Sembene, 1975)

Xala marks Sembene’s exploration into the world of satire, dissecting the political shift in power from the colonizing French to the local Senegalese. Sembene starts with the familiar corrupt politico’s preaching independence, but conducting the same ethical misconduct of their predecessors. The film then shifts into the core story, if you can call it that since the film jumps around quite a bit, focusing on one the these newly empowered businessmen and his marriage to a third woman, eliciting some hilarious social catastrophe’s which turns out to be the best segment in the film. When the man is stricken with a curse, or “Xala”, his life begins to crumble, his sex life non-existent, his business failing. Certain great scenes stand out from the whole, like when Sembene’s tortured protagonist gets down on his hands and knees, crawling toward his new bride, following the advice of a shaman in order to get an erection. While the director’s are targets are all worthy, universal social consequences of colonialism and post colonialism, his fluid stylistic approach meanders around at the expense of story. Filmmakers like Bunuel, Wilder, and Sturges represent the great satirists of the film world because they never abandoned the characters and their reactions within the story. Sembene’s biting critique of his changing society leaves these basic principles in the dust.

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