Ousmene Sembene of Senegal makes films that comment upon Africa in the post colonial era. Particularly the way in which many African countries have failed to find their unique identity and instead simply adopted many of the bad habits of their colonizers.
Xala [made in 1973] deals with this by utilizing a killer metaphor.
The film begins with the locals charging the government building and taking over power from the all white officials. Within a short time, however, they end up just as corrupt as the white leaders.
The story revolves around one particularly greedy middle aged man named El Hadji who takes the large sum of money that he was given by the new government and spends it on a wedding where he takes a third wife.
El Hadji is a corrupt businessman who has little respect for his wives or his family. He also treats the underclass locals with contempt by forcibly removing them from the in front of his business. Due to this disrepectful attitude he gets his comeuppance on his wedding night when he is unable to sexually perform for his new bride.
Semene uses broad metaphors throughout the film. The man is representative of Africa's elite. The underclass - many of whom are crippled beggars - are the people of Africa. The three wives each represent different generations of women. And the impotance is a sign of the performance of the new elite, which produces nothing for the people it is supposed to represent.
El Hadji is forced to look for witch doctors [called marabouts]. But he has money problems and has to take a chance with a fat check, which he gives to the doctor who cures him. Eventually his corrupt acts get out of hand even for his fellow businessmen who expel him from their group. Soon the family of his third wife find a way to anul the wedding and his second wife leaves him. Left empty handed and with nowhere to turn El Hadji has to find a way to at least get back his manhood.
Funny and gritty Xala does not have high production value and is rough in spots. And the acting seems non-professional. The film plays like a deadpan comedy most of the way through with allegories at every turn making its message iquite clear. It's ending - which I won't give away - is also quite startling and much has been said and written about it.
Xala is an African comedy about a powerful businessman who is inflicted with impotence. Funny and full of allegories this is a message picture to the core but despite being a bit rough around the edges it feels fresh rather than heavy handed. The DVD has nothing to offer and has fair production value. The film itself, however, is highly recommended.
[The cover of the DVD is a bit odd because it includes a photo of a short guy who is only in the film for one insignificant scene. I guess New Yorker video must have felt that a short man with a tall woman was somewhat representative of the film's message. But I'm guessing the person who designed the cover did not see the film.]