Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene put Africa on the cinematic map with his film Black Girl which showed how Africans are treated one way in Africa and another everywhere else. It was blunt like a brick to the skull, but still pretty effective. However, Sembene’s best work happened when he stopped looking at how non-Africans treat Africans and started looking at how Africans treated Africans.
Mandabi means a money order and it’s one of those that this film revolves around. The man pictured above is Ibrahima. He’s been out of work for four years trying to support himself and his two wives when a money order arrives from his nephew in Paris. His nephew has saved up money sweeping streets and he’s sending some of it home to help his family. The problem is cashing that money order. Between Ibrahima and that money order lie family members, spending of money they don’t have, good intentions, beggars, red tape, fees, and thieves.
My favorite is the woman who comes up to him on the street with a sob story and manages to get some money out of him. Not 5-10 minutes later she hits him up again not realizing it’s the same guy. He even reminds her that she didn’t bother to change her clothes. She says he’s making unwanted advances toward her.
Ultimately, a friend cashes the money order and then claims he lost it to a pickpocket. He gives Ibrahima a ride home and some rice. Immediately, upon arriving home his neighbors come over to take the rice while he sits in the street stunned until his wives come out to protect him.
The movie is relentless, funny, and tragic. It’s an excellent introduction to Sembene. I recommend it.