Film Scouts Reviews

"Guimba, un tyrant une époque (Guimba, a Tyrant and His Era)"

by Kathleen Carroll

Guimba combines a cheerful African style magic realism with a serious metaphorical message about the evils of tyranny. Director Cheikh Oumar Sissoko does not quite pull it off but it's easy to see why this vibrant, highly-polished production won the grand prize at this year's Fespaco Pan-African Film Festival. The unique setting, a Sahara desert town in 19th century pre-colonial Africa, captivates the eye. The traditional Berber-type costumes, in particular, add tantalizing splashes of color to a monotone town of mud huts.

Calling the shots from his mud palace is Guimba who, like the notorious African despot Idi Amin, is punch drunk on his own power. The bloated buffoon is dangerously out of control. He's also saddled with a "runt" of a son, Jangine, who has developed an insatiable sexual appetite for plump women.

Trouble begins when Jangine suddenly balks at marrying his fiancee from birth, a lovely but thin young noblewoman named Kani. Jangine insists that he wants Meya, Kani's spirited and well-padded mother, instead. To please his son Guimba tries to force Meya's husband to divorce her, a senseless act that ultimately provokes his people into staging a rebellion. Although there's a stunning scene in which potential suitors for Kani charge towards the desert outpost on horseback but they are easily cowed by the women who clearly represent the superior sex in this African town. It's hardly any wonder that one woman, echoing a familiar lament, asks "Where have all the real men gone?"

Sissoko pays tribute to the African tradition of storytelling but he himself is not a particularly adept storyteller. It's difficult to distinguish one character from the other at first. There are also definite lulls in the action. Even so GUIMBA remains a visually enticing glimpse of a fascinating culture.

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