historic entries

Senegal, DRC, Tunisia: At Cannes, African cinema is back with a vengeance

By Eva Sauphie, Eva Sauphie

Posted on April 28, 2023 07:53

While the 2022 edition of the iconic film festival saw a notable under-representation of sub-Saharan African cinematic submissions, this year’s Cannes Film Festival is honouring no less than 12 African films.

The 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival promises to be a promising one for Africa. The continent is not only represented in its territorial and narrative diversity, but also in terms of gender.

Two women are vying for the Palme d’Or: Ramata-Toulaye Sy, 36, has achieved the feat of entering the official selection with her first film, Banel e Adama. The story of a young couple living in a remote, Northern Senegalese village, where their romance comes up against the village’s traditional constraints.

A graduate of the École Nationale Supérieure des Métiers de l’Image et du Son (Femis) and born in Paris to Senegalese parents, Sy presents a film shot entirely in Pulaar (one of the national languages of Senegal), including a cast of actors and a team of technicians exclusively from Senegal.

This project is an extension of a short film entitled Astel (awarded the special jury prize at the Clermont-Ferrand festival in 2022), written during the Covid-19 lockdown.

It’s a winning recipe that has already proved itself with Atlantique, by Mati Diop (with a Grand Prix at Cannes in 2019), an extension of the almost same-named short Atlantiques released 10 years earlier. The same goes for Ladj Ly, winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes in the same year with Les Misérables, which is the feature-length follow-up to the eponymous short film of the same name released in 2017.

Moroccan and Tunisian cinema in the spotlight

The second director in the official competition is not unknown to the Cannes community. In 2017, Kaouther Ben Hania of Tunisia attracted attention with her third feature film, La Belle et la Meute, selected in the Un certain regard category. Ben Hania, president of the Critics’ Week jury last year, returns this time to present Les Filles d’Olfa.

This documentary film tells the intimate story of a Tunisian mother of four daughters who suddenly discovers that two of them have disappeared. In order to fill their absence on screen, the filmmaker called on two actresses to lift the veil on the personal story of this family, which touches on themes of hope, rebellion, transmission, and sisterhood. This is the first time in over 50 years that a Tunisian film has been included in the official competition.

North African cinema also stands out in the Un certain regard section with two Moroccan films in competition, including a first submission by Kamal Lazraq, who directed a Casablanca thriller entitled Les Meutes, and Asmae El Moudir’s documentary, Kadib Abyad (Arabic for The Mother of All Lies), about the director’s family secrets and memories.

jad20230419-cm-cinema-cannes-lesmeutes © ‘Les Meutes’ is a Casablanca thriller directed by Kamal Lazraq © Barney Production

Historical entries from Sudan and DRC

Beyond the Maghreb, but still within Northern Africa, Sudan is making its first appearance on the Cannes screen. Mohamed Kordofani himself will be the first Sudanese director to walk the red carpet to present his film Goodbye Julia, which tells the story of Mona, a retired singer from Northern Sudan who is ravaged by guilt after covering up a murder.

Another historic entry is that of DRC: while Dieudo Hamadi’s En route pour le milliard was supposed to be the first Congolese film ever presented at Cannes in 2020, that year’s edition had to be cancelled due to the pandemic.

However, we now have a chance to catch up with another nice surprise in the Un certain regard category, beginning with the first feature film by the Belgian-Congolese performer Baloji Tshiani, better known for his prowess in front of a microphone than behind the camera (except for directing music videos).

The rapper will present Augure, a fictional film about witchcraft, serving as one of the muses behind his unique and ambitious musical style. It is a unique film in its own right, shot in French, Swahili, Lingala, and English, exhibiting an Afro-futuristic sensory experience, where we will learn and witness music as a character in its own right.

In total, no less than 12 African films will be represented on the Croisette, including parallel selections.

While the 62nd edition of the International Critics’ Week does not include, for the second year in a row, any proposal from the continent in its prize list, the Directors’ Fortnight and the Association du Cinéma Indépendant dans sa Diffusion (ACID), each have two feature films in their selection.

  • On one side: Déserts, by Moroccan director Faouzi Bensaïdi, and Mambar Pierrette, by Cameroonian Rosine Mbakam.
  • And on the other side: Machtat, by Tunisian Sonia Ben Slama, and Nome, by Bissau-Guinean Sana Na N’Hada.

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