Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambety adapted this morality tale from Friedrich Durrenmatt's harrowing satirical play, "Der Besuch der alten Dame." What's interesting here is how well Durrenmatt's themes come through, even when translated into an entirely different culture.
The African village of Colobane becomes severely impoverished when an unknown outsider buys the main factory and closes it down. The townspeople's hopes rise when word comes that the millionairess Linguere Ramatou (Ami Diakhate), a former inhabitant of Colobane, is returning. The Mayor (Mamadou
Mahouredia Gueye) prepares a welcoming speech in praise of her and exhorts the inhabitants to be on their best behavior. The visitor turns out to be an ancient, indomitable lady, hobbling on one leg as a result of a plane crash years before.
Ramatou tells the villagers that she will give them $100 million if they fulfill a special request. She demands the life of one Dramaan Drameh (Mansour Diouf), the most popular man in town, destined to be its next mayor. It seems that this humble grocer had been in love with her in the far-off
days of their youth. Yet, when she became pregnant, he threw her over in favor of a rich girl. He even went so far as to bribe two friends with wine to say that they, too, had slept with Ramatou. The outcast girl was forced to leave Colobane, in disgrace; she became a prostitute, as did her child.
The whole town, Dramaan included, is at first flabbergasted by this request. However, soon after, Dramaan's sleepy little store becomes a beehive of activity with crowds of villagers coming to buy all sorts of unaffordable luxuries, all on credit. He seeks the help of the local police and clergy,
but they wave his fears aside. In desperation, he makes an attempt to leave town by train, but is detained by a threatening group of neighbors. However much they may want to resist Ramatou's influence, the futility of their efforts becomes clear when she reveals that she has indeed bought up the
entire town, factory included. The Mayor calls a general meeting, during which he tells Dramaan that he must pay for the wrong he did. He offers Dramaan the option of suicide ("You'd leave the memory of a more or less decent human being") and hands him a gun. Dramaan refuses to give them such an
easy out and decides to face the inevitable.
Mambety's translation is quite faithful to the original play and the African setting gives it an added, elemental power. His sure direction recalls the simple force of Zhang Yimou's best work. Matthias Kalin's fine photography keeps pace, with hypnotic imagery: the bleakly beautiful desert;
shimmering seascapes; and the milling townspeople in their gaudy, newly-acquired finery. Acting as wordless accompanists to the drama are various native beasts: languorous baboons; quizzical owls; hovering vultures and, of course, the dangerous packs of hyenas which reflect the townspeople's
growing rapaciousness. The startling scenes of crass consumerism taking hold of Colobane are every bit as menacingly funny as they were in the original. Waxis Diop's music is a strikingly evocative blend of romantic Spanish guitars and stirring African chants. Diouf's performance as a simple,
foolish man who makes some fatally easy choices, grows steadily in tragic stature. Diakhato's stylized acting lends her the grandeur of a Byzantine empress and is effectively impenetrable. Reminiscing about their early love, the two have a banked chemistry that's like a faint, near-dead ember
hidden in the ashes. (Adult situations, violence.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambety adapted this morality tale from Friedrich Durrenmatt's harrowing satirical play, "Der Besuch der alten Dame." What's interesting here is how well Durrenmatt's themes come through, even when translated into an entire… (more)