On Poetry and Culture Shock

African Cinema

African Cinema Cornell Cinema (what would I do without these guys?) is having a cycle of African cinema. Yesterday I saw two shorts, Histoire des Tresses (Braids) from Rwanda, and Kounandi (that’s a woman’s name) from Burkina Faso. I expected them to be slow, small stories; in my experience, Third World cinema (or should I say cinema out of the Western tradition, which is not the same thing) is a lot slower than what we are used to watch. What surprised me was they way they took the supernatural for granted.

Histoire des Tresses is a movie for fans of Lost in Translation. Minimal dialogue and a story about a woman who does beautiful braid work and never, ever, leaves her house, and a girl with hardly a bit of fuzz on her head, looking for someone to braid it with fake hair. Eventually, they find each other, the old one does the other’s braids, and then the young one’s skin becomes dry and hard like clay or bark, her hair stands on end like snakes, and she looks like Medusa, like some sort of goddess. The last shot shows the young woman in human aspect again, and the old one looking happy, walking down the street.

’s acting is sometimes overdone, sometimes static, sometimes theatrical, sometimes awful. The first half of the film is ridiculously fast-paced. The relationships between the characters are very obvious (the woman, her male friend, his raving jealous wife). At the end, the two women meet at night, lightning strikes down a tree, and the wife falls flat on the ground. But the morning after, the other woman is found peacefully dead in her bed, and the wife has suddenly turned sweet-tempered. You are left to assume that the friend killed the wife and occupied her body using magic.

It’s a pity I haven’t had time to watch more of the African festival. That attitude towards the mythical is intriguing.

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