Three Tales From Senegal

  • Le Franc
  • Picc Mi(Little Bird)
  • Fary l'annesse(Fary the Donkey)
  • The three Senegalese shorts in this brief film anthology adapt the ancient African storytelling tradition to a modern medium and setting. If the novel and its close relative, the feature film, reflect the complex, overlapping narratives of urban life, then these cinematic fables encapsulate the basic beliefs which support ordinary Africans as they try to navigate through a rapidly changing world.

    Le Franc

    Director: Djibril Diop Mambety
    Senegal, 1994
    45 minutes

    Djibril Diop Mambety has already produced two feature-length masterpieces of African storytelling, Hyenas and Touki Bouki. Now in Le Franc, he begins a trilogy of shorts, Tales of Little People, whom he describes as, "the only truly consistent, unaffected people in the world, for whom every morning brings the same question: how to preserve what is essential to themselves."

    Mambety uses the French government's 50% devaluation of the West African Franc (CFA) in 1994 as the basis for a whimsical yet trenchant parable of life in today's Africa. For the millions of people impoverished by this devaluation, the national lotteries became the only hope for salvation. Mambety symbolizes the global economy as a game of chance, which the poor are compelled to play, though the odds are heavily stacked against them.

    The hero of this tale (and perhaps Mambety's alter ego) is Marigo, a penniless musician living in a shanty town, relentlessly harassed by his formidable landlady. He survives only through dreams of playing his congoma (a kind of guitar) which has been confiscated in lieu of back rent.

    At the end of his luck, he buys a lottery ticket from the dwarf Kus, the god of fortune, and glues it to the back of his door under a poster of his hero, Yaadikoone, a legendary Senegalese Robin Hood. When he wins, Marigo begins a harrowing odyssey across a Dakar of trash heaps, dilapidated buildings and chaotic traffic. Stumbling along under the unwieldy door, he seems to carry the burdens of an absurd world on his shoulders. Played with slapstick gusto by the gangly, rubber-legged Dieye Ma Dieye, Marigo is both comic and poignant, a Senegalese Charlie Chaplin.

    Marigo is told the ticket has to be removed from the door so he carries it down to the shore so the waves can wash it off. He is, of course, swamped in the surf and loses the ticket, only to discover it pasted to his forehead. In the last shot, Marigo is seen exulting on a barren rock, as the breakers which opened the film continue to crash around him. We, the viewers, are left to decide if he is a symbol of hope or its ultimate futility.


    Now available on-line Mambety's last interview: The Hyenas Last Laugh: A conversation with Djibril Diop Mambety by Frank Ukadike (from Transition 78)

    Picc Mi (Little Bird)
    Director: Mansour Sora Wade
    Senegal, 1992
    20 minutes

    After graduating from film school, director Mansour Sora Wade worked for the Senegalese Ministry of Culture charged with the preservation and revitalization of the country's oral tradition. In these two "fables on film," he displays a style characterized by economy and wit, each episode leading to the inevitable moral conclusion.

    Picc Mi, (Little Bird), protests the increasing exploitation of children in the fast-growing cities of the developing world. Mamadou (Modou) is a talibe, a boy given by his poor parents into the care of a marabout, or Moslem holy man. Each day the talibe are sent into the bazaars to beg for alms for the holy man. One day Modou meets another young boy, Ablaye, who scavenges the streets for junk to give to his father, a farmer driven into the city by drought. The two boys spend one day of freedom together scoffing at the venality of the adult world around them. A song by Senegalese superstar Youssou N'Dour (page 19) about a young bird who a crocodile tries to lure from its nest with promises of food provides a commentary. In the final scene, Modou runs along the beach towards the sea and, at least in his imagination, is transformed into a bird, who can fly free of the adult crocodiles who would devour him.

    Fary l'anesse (Fary the Donkey)

    Director: Mansour Sora Wade
    Senegal, 1989
    17 minutes

    Fary, l'Anesse (Fary, the Donkey) gives an African twist to the timeless theme of men led astray by foolish desires. Ibra refuses to marry any woman with the slightest physical flaw. One day, Fary, a beautiful young woman, arrives mysteriously at his village. Ibra marries her but soon word spreads among the villagers that each day Fary transforms herself into a donkey. Things that seem too good to be true usually are. The moral: "The man who falls in love with beauty forgets that there are other qualities in women. Since Fary, the donkey, have times changed?"

    Folklore and Mythology

    "Le Franc uses the backdrop of the franc devaluation to give us some of the most fantastic, magic-realist moments in African cinema...So surreal it creates an African sublime."
    -- Village Voice

    "Mambety's work has been compared to Godard, and it's easy to see why...A comedic, well-told and visually poetic story."
    -- San Francisco Bay Guardian

    "A melody of love to the disinherited of the earth."
    -- Il Manifesto

    "The film is so irresistibly funny, one thinks of Jacques Tati."
    -- Pardo News

    In Wolof with English subtitles
    82 minutes, three films on one cassette

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