Tuesday, June 12, 2007
After the death last week of New Wave actor Jean-Claude Brialy, cinema lost another major talent with the death, at the grand old age of 84, of the great Senegalese filmmaker and novelist Ousmane Sembène. Sembène, a long-time leftist dissident and champion of both African liberation and the poor in newly-independent Senegal, was equally scathing of the former French colonial powers and the local elites that succeeded them. He was most famous for his 1960 novel Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu (God's Bits of Wood), which dramatized a real-life strike on the Dakar-Niger railway line in 1947 and 1948, and also for his 1975 political satire Xala (The Curse), which features the famous scene of a government minister using bottles of Evian to wash his car. Like most Senegalese he had an ambivalent attitude towards France, resentful of its colonialist interference in West Africa but also generous towards French culture and any interest that the West showed in both his own cinema and that of Africa in general. His last film Moolaadé, from 2004, which was an attack on female circumcision, was a fitting close to the career of this great, magnanimous radical.