The Saturday evening programme of the African Film Festival began with a screening of Afripedia:Angola (28 min.), the first episode in a documentary series created for Swedish television that focuses on African creative artists. Afripedia: Angola, directed by Teddy Goitom and Benjamin Taft, includes interviews and performances from Kuduro artists, a type of music and dance that incorporates aspects of Carnival music, techno, and the Angola traditional musical style of Semba. It’s a very lively and entertaining program that includes not only performances by individuals like the transgender singer and dancer Titica and the rapper and producer Sacerdote but also commentary on contemporary Angola society by the social satirist Nastio Mosquito.
The evening’s feature film, L’Oeil du Cyclone (“The Eye of the Cyclone,” 100 min.), directed by Sékou Traoré, is a fictional film taking on a topic that has been in the news quite a bit: child soldiers. L’Oeil du Cyclone is structured around the trial (in an unspecified country) of an alleged war criminal, Blackshouam Vila (Fargass Assandé), with the other key figure being Emma Tou (Maimouna N’Diaye), his defence attorney. Tou, at first, refuses to take this case, but when she sees Vila being abused by guards, decides that he deserves a defence like any other accused person. Vila doesn’t make her job easy: for a long time he refuses to speak, and when he does find his tongue, rather than cooperating with his lawyer he taunts her with descriptions of his crimes and refuses to supply information that might help his case. As well as the intransigence of her client, Tou must deal with multiple personal issues, including her own childhood memories of wartime atrocities and the knowledge that her family is receiving a great deal of abuse from strangers since she decided to take the case.
L’Oeil du Cyclone is not a perfect film, but it is certainly an interesting one. Its main fault is that it tries to tie together too many issues while its great strength is that Traoré has successfully adapted the conventions of Hollywood filmmaking to tell a distinctively African story. He also accomplishes a difficult task in this film-humanising someone who has admitted to committing atrocities, but who is also a victim in a social process he did not create. In a normal society, after all, there would be no child soldiers. Since that’s not the world we live in, it may be reasonable to ask how such a childhood would affect a person’s adult life. On the other hand, we tend to assume that adults are responsible for their actions and to side with the victims of mass rape and murder rather than with the perpetrators.
There are also some interesting gender politics in L’Oeil du Cyclone. Tou is portrayed as a distinctly unfeminine woman, wearing a severe hairstyle and tailored clothes, and showing no interest in dating or marriage, while one of the prisoners housed in the same jail as Vila appears to be a transgender person who dresses and acts like a woman (his crime, according to one of the guards, is castrating himself and his boyfriend). Traoré doesn’t make a lot out of the gender identifications of either character, so perhaps those characterizations were included because they reflect a reality in some contemporary African societies. L’Oeil du Cyclonehas won a number of awards, including Best Screenplay at the Trophés Francophones du Cinema and Best Actor (Fargass Assandé), Best Actress (Maimouna Ndiaye), and the Bronze Stallion (third place for best film) at the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ougadougou (FESPACO). | Sarah Boslaugh