Thursday, June 18, 2009


By D.E.Levine

A selection of MOMA, NYC. Check for schedule.

Director: Abderrahmane Sissako
Producers: Pierre Chevalier, Carole Scotta, Caroline Benjo, Barbara Letellier and Simon Arnal
Screenplay: Abderrahmane Sissako
Cast: Abderrahmane Sissako, Nana Baby, Mohamed Sissako, Bourama Coulibaly, Keita Bina Gaousso, Mahamadou Drame, Moussa Fofana, Keita Kagny, Madlaye Traore, Solo Diarra, Fodia Coulibaly, Madou Mariko, Lassina Kane, Mahamane Maiiga, Cheykh Bouya Ould Yarba
Country of Origin: Africa
Languages: French and Bambara with English subtitles
Release Date: June 1999
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 61 Minutes

A semi-documentary, "Life on Earth" follows writer and director Abderrahmane Sissako, a Mauritanian living in Paris as he goes back to his father's village of Sokolo, Mali just before the beginning of the millennium.

Sissako goes from modern 20th century France to one of the poorest countries in the world and examines the contrast on New Year's Eve 1999, the eve of the millennium.

Lyrically "painting" a portrait of this extremely poor area of West Africa, with beautifully filmed African vistas, the director is outspoken about European destruction of Africa, attributing the "highest pile of corpses in history" to European industrial leaders "without scruples."

Dispassionate after these comments, the film studies the village with it's rudimentary radio station, swarms of birds that are destroying and devouring the rice crop (the livelihood to many), and the post office with it's solitary regional telephone. This picture is that of real life.

In Sokolo on New Year's Eve, Sissako and his father listen together as the millennial celebrations from the Eiffel Tower in Paris and other locations around the world come to them over the radio..

All of the western hype about the millennium is meaningless in the reality of the West African environment as it stands poised on the brink of the 21st century.

The dichotomy between the descriptions of the celebrations with their material abundance and technological sophistication in Europe, and the picture of almost primitive life in Sokolo, speaks volumes.

This film, beautiful, disquieting and sad, is unique and profound. A documentary filmmaker would never have been able to capture the desolate beauty and the emotional thoughtfulness that Sissako develops through his own thematic connections and deep feelings of emotional involvement.

Ten years after its release the film holds its own, still evoking both psychological and political reactions to the state of West Africa and the need for applying solutions to real problems in that part of the world.