de facto film reviews 2.5 stars

Banel and Adama is a finely shot film of wonderful vistas and dreamlike images, concerning a young couple from Senegal. The man, Adama, is destined to be the chief of the village, and has taken a wife, Banel, who is strong willed, independent and seems much like an outsider. She encourages her husband to go against tradition. Sounds like the setup for something quite wonderful, right? At times, it seems like it could be. Unfortunately, this one, despite a solid lead performance, never takes flight.

The film loses itself in a sea of choices, few of them worth your time. The film has no characters you can really root for, even in terms of finding them interesting. Banel seems like she might be, but the film is not interested in truly interrogating her. We get hints of a complicated inner life, and perhaps something sinister at the center of it all and yet, we cannot be bothered to care, because the film does not give us a reason to care.  Banel and Adama should be the center of the film, and the film should be about their struggles with each other, their love and devotion to one another or lack thereof and what is happening in the village. On the surface, it is all of these things and yet, the only word that comes to mind is what, and perhaps, why.


Courtesy Kingo Lorber

Banel’s mother-in-law insists that her son marry another woman, if Banel does not give Adama a son, and Banel angers a friend, who discovers how self-centered Banel is. Banel’s twin warns her against her behaviors. She simply wants to be in her houses, outside of town, with her husband, who is slowly finding himself drawn into the duties of chief, which he has turned down. All of this could be played to great dramatic effect. Instead, we get endless scenes depicting various drought conditions, in ways that seem to mean something deeper. There is no nourishment in Banel, and she takes without giving, is one read, but why is that

The film does not explore this dynamic enough. We see what appears to be a happy marriage, early on, and fear it will be split apart from the outside, only to discover the threat is internal, Fine, but why is this done in such a series of awkward, halting manner? Is this meant to reflect some sort of tension within Banel, who is our point of view? That alone could be some of the trouble. In a film that depicts her as a strong, independent woman, she comes across as the opposite far more often than makes sense.


Banel & Adama

Courtesy Kino Lorber 

The film seems at odds with itself and its characters. You will fall in love with the scenery and the photography, but you will wish there was a bit less lyricism, or a bit more, at times. Either a Terrence Malick or David Lynch level of “something else” needed to be here, or the director needed to stop trying to be a Senegalese version of Mira Nair. It is a film of almost great moments and many more incomplete thoughts and gestures. It tries hard and is earnest, but it is not a cohesive work. Yet, this viewer did not hate this film. Indeed, in the opening ten minutes or so, the film is perhaps at its very best, and a little more of that sort of thing might have gone a long way toward rescuing the film from the noble failure column into which it ultimately falls. That said, I will be interested in seeing where the two leads and the director of this film go next. Something tells me they have many better films ahead of them.

BANEL AND ADAMA is now playing in limited theaters