While the title perfectly captures the mood of this striking film from Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako, it's actually a translation of heremakono, a West African term used to describe the kind of the temporary structures that house this diverse cast of characters. The setting is the small, sun-bleached Mauritanian town of Nouadhibou, a port on Africa's west coast that's become a way-station for intrepid Africans attempting to emigrate to Europe. One such traveler, Abdallah (Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamed), has returned to Nouadhibou to visit his mother (Fatimetou Mint Ahmeda) before heading north. In a sense, Abdallah's exile has already begun: Instead of the traditional robes worn by the other men of the village, Abdallah dresses in European-style shirts and trousers, and while fluent in French he can't speak a word of Hassaniya, the Arabic dialect that's Mauritania's official language. Unable to communicate with the other villagers, Abdallah has grown withdrawn and isolated, and spends much of his time in his dark basement room, watching the feet of passers by whisk past his window. Hoping to rouse her son from his depression, Abdallah's mother asks elderly handyman Maata (Maata Ould Mohamed Abeid) to install an electric light in his room. Maata's pint-sized assistant, Khatra (Khatra Ould Abdel Kader), a young orphan whom the old man has informally adopted, scrambles onto the roof, but they can't get seem to get the bulb to work. Their efforts hardly matter: The only thing in town that interests Abdallah is Nana (Nan Diakite), a pretty young woman whose husband — like so many others — has decamped for Europe. Abandoned, Nana now makes her living "entertaining" local men. The discursive style of Sissoko's film resists attempts to privilege any single story line; the narrative is split fairly evenly between Abdallah, Maata and little Khatra, who must eventually learn to accept the fact that Maata will soon be leaving for parts unknown. While not as autobiographical a film as Sissoko's earlier LIFE ON EARTH, the character of Abdallah appears to be based largely on the filmmaker, who, after spending six years studying film in Moscow, returned to find himself an exile in his own country. That sense of rootlessness pervades this poetic film, and adds extra poignancy to one of its most powerful images: The drowned body of a would-be emigrant, washed back ashore like the wrecked ships that litter Nouadhibou's coastline.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: NR
- Review: While the title perfectly captures the mood of this striking film from Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako, it's actually a translation of heremakono, a West African term used to describe the kind of the temporary structures that house this diverse… (more)