Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Burkina Faso pt II: Films

The film poster

As a geeky teenager, Ouagadougou was my barometer. I would ask new acquaintances what the capital of Burkina Faso was; if they knew the answer, I was confident that this was a chap with a solid grasp of useless geographical facts, someone I could get along with. (And it was always chaps; I quickly learnt that this sort of thing didn’t impress girls. At all.)

Visiting the quirkily named city as a geeky 35-year-old, I was slightly underwhelmed. Not disappointed – it’s a friendly place and less stressful than other African cities I have been to – but it doesn’t take long to realise that there’s not much to it. The owner of the Tiandora Esperance hotel in Po had said Accra was “like America”. I had laughed at the time (perhaps a little too loudly) but I could now see his point. No sleek cars, no high-rise buildings, no smart cafes; it all felt very sleepy compared to Ghana’s rapidly expanding capital.

Kids in Ouagadougou
One thing for which Ouaga is famous is its film festival and cinematic outputs, regarded as the best in West Africa. Not that this is a huge accolade; the region’s most popular films come from Nollywood and are, without exception, complete and utter shite. The typical Nigerian film – and I have had to sit through many on long bus journeys – is a poorly shot, badly acted story of domestic violence, devils being cast out, ridiculously bloody murders, and usually contain a good smattering of comedy dwarfs, wizards and diabolical special effects. Throw in the ubiquitous pisspoor sound quality and shaky cameras and you have two very long hours to endure.

Having scoped out one of Ouaga’s outdoor cinemas earlier in the day, Hannah and I were surprised to find it locked up and in darkness when we turned up for 7pm, when the film was supposed to start. But on the dot of the hour – people are very punctual in Burkina Faso – the curator toddled up on his bike, smiled at us and unlocked the doors. Silently, he set up the projector, slipped in the disc and we were off. No popcorn, no trailers, no fuss.

The big screen
And the film was good. Despite being in French, I managed to get the gist of the plot. A wife makes a love potion for her elderly husband, to put a bit of lead into his drooping pencil. But rather than reaping the rewards herself, he uses his new ‘powers’ with a string of younger, prettier women, at the suggestion of his best friend. The wife, understandably, is a bit upset and the friend feels a bit guilty.

Then, husband’s new ‘girlfriend’ is mugged in the street (by a man who, for some reason, is dressed like Noddy Holder). A brave mechanic working nearby rescues her, and she falls in love with him.

Sunset in Ouaga
At this point, it got a bit confusing. The husband and his friend have an argument and, possibly with an eye on their potential Nigerian audience, there is a random dwarf with magic powers who vanishes into thin air. But by the end, the husband is sorry, the girlfriend marries her mechanic boyfriend, and then comes to apologise to the older man’s wife for sleeping with her husband (as is only polite, after all).

The cinematography was excellent, the acting was good and it didn’t go on too long. No one screamed, no one died and no one went mad with a scythe. And it was all enjoyed beneath the stars on a clear night in Ouagadougou. It may be faint praise, like being crowned the prettiest slug or most talented Spice Girl, but there is little doubt that Burkina Faso’s films are far and away the best in the region.

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