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Thursday, June 18, 2009

WAITING FOR HAPPINESS (HEREMAKONO)

By D.E.Levine

The wonderful thing about New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) is the ongoing effort to present films of merit from the past as well as current films. This year MOMA presents films of Abderrahmane Sissako from June 26 to July 2, highlighting the efforts of this noted African filmmaker who will be present to introduce and answer questions about some of the films
Check listings at www.moma.org

Director: Abderrahamane Sissako
Producers: Nicholas Royer and Maji-da Abdi
Screenplay: Abderrahamne Sissako
Cast: Khatra Ouid Abder, Maata Ould Mohamed Abeid, Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamed, Nana Diakitu, Faitmetou Mint Ahimeda, Makanfing Dabo and Santha Leng
Genre: Drama
Country of Origin: Africa
Languages: French, Hassanya, Mandarin
Released: January 2003
Recipient of the International Critics' Prize, Cannes Film Festival 2002
Running Time: 95 Minutes

Filmed in Nouadhibou, Mauritania, "Waiting for Happiness" moves at an excruciatingly slow pace, which appears to be the same pace that life moves at in the town. Very little happens in Nouadhibou, and what does happen takes place very slowly and can be interpreted as being pretty boring.

The film is acted almost entirely by non-professionals. The cast gives amazingly natural and interesting performances that give insight into the community, where life is slow and traditional and the progress of the modern world sits just on the edge of town, almost but not quite encroaching.

The story centers around 17-year old Abdallah who has been away from his home village so long that he's forgotten the local dialect and is unable to communicate with the local townspeople. As a result, Abdallah doesn't speak many lines.

Visiting his mother before setting off for Europe, Abdallah finds that he doesn't fit in with his society and has difficulty speaking with his own mother. He feels estranged and although he tries, he is unable to relearn the local dialect.

Isolated, although among people, Abdallah spends much of his time sitting alone and reading, without the benefit of electricity, watching the timeless pace of the town through the window in his mother's home or wandering around town by himself.

The aged local, and ineffective electrician, Maata, tries but is unable to bring electricity to Abdallah's mother's home. Encouraged to do so by Khatra, an energetic, talkative and interesting youngster who acts as Maata's assistant, the electrician makes feeble attempts to tap into electricity flowing elsewhere and connect it.

His failure to successfully tap into and transmit the electricity is perhaps a metaphor for Maata's failure to tap into life. Reminiscing about his life, Maata speaks of the opportunity he had to leave town and travel and how he turned it down because he had no desire to go into the outer, larger world and learn what was there.

He comments could describe most of the town's population since "Waiting for Happiness" explores the alienation and isolation of people who always remain alone despite their presence in a big globalized world.

While the outside world brings karaoke music, televisions and old cars to the town, the people resist in small but significant ways, as demonstrated by an Arab mother teaching her daughter music and song on a home made guitar, and individuals reverting to traditional African dress and socializing through traditional tea ceremonies.

Tradition dies slowly and the townspeople's attitude and actions result in keeping them isolated.

The movie's slow pace is characterized by a total lack of passion in the lives of all the characters to whom we're introduced. Perhaps if they had passion about their jobs, their existence, and/or their futures, the film would pick up speed. But it never does and yet the viewer keeps watching out of a sense of expectancy, curiosity and fascination.

As it is, there are neither stars nor catalysts in the film. The material and characters are quiet and low key. Instead, making subtle and philosophical statements about alienation and isolation, Sissako's universe is the magnificent landscape lovingly filmed in color.

The cinematography is amazing as it captures the bleak beauty of this West African town. Visually, the film is completely captivating and poetic, painting a visual picture with an artist's palette.

Surrounded by enormous never-ending sand dunes and with a gusty wind whipping through the frames, the film visually conveys panoramic neutrality with its hazy tones of beige (sand colored), broken intermittently by the shining wave swept sea and the vivid colors of native African garb.

In this transient West African town, people are always alone, regardless what they do. This town is a microcosm showing small people isolated in the big world. It's not topical, it's timeless.