Film review: 'Bamako' way too heavy-handed

Published: Friday, Aug. 17 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

Aissa Maiga has a few good moments in "Bamako."

New Yorker Films

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BAMAKO — ** — Aissa Maiga, Tiecoura Traore; with English subtitles (French and African dialects); not rated, probable PG-13 (violence, slurs, brief drugs, brief gore).

"Bamako" wants to make a point more than it wants to tell a story, which is a real problem.

The film tries to put the World Bank on trial, along with most other world powers, as well as discuss various issues regarding the quality of life in Africa and other impoverished countries.

That would be fine if the movie were a documentary and not a narrative feature film. But instead, it's a clumsy, talk-heavy and crushingly heavy-handed hybrid. While it may have the best of intentions, "Bamako" is sometimes hard to watch.

The film's title refers to the capital city of Mali, which is shown hosting a mock trial, in which local leaders and others discuss various issues, including the African national debt, health-care concerns and questions about who's to blame for these things.

For the outspoken Mali residents, it's a way to at least air some of their grievances. But nightclub singer Mele (Aissa Maiga) and her husband, Chaka (Tiecoura Traore), couldn't care less. They seem to be oblivious to the hearings, instead concentrating on their own marital squabbles.

There's really little more to the plot than that. And frankly, the two disparate aspects of the movie aren't integrated very well. Screenwriter/director Abderrahmane Sissako even includes a few snippets of a bizarre cowboy movie that stars Danny Glover (one of the film's producers), Palestinian director Elia Suleiman and Sissako.

That's not to say that the film doesn't have rewarding aspects. Maiga ("Paris, Je T'aime") does have some real presence and shows some musical talent, though her character is underwritten and underdeveloped.

"Bamako" is not rated but would probably receive a PG-13 for some violent imagery (including pair of shootings), slurs based on race and nationality, brief drug references and brief gore. Running time: 113 minutes.


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