Saturday, January 11, 2020


Written and directed by Ousmane Sembene, Emitai is the story of a group of women in a village hide a crop of rice from the French government during World War II as it leads to a revolt between villagers and the government of the times. The film is a look into Senegal’s role in World War II as they find themselves troubled by the Vichy government in France at that time and its aftermath as it play into Senegal’s uneasy relationship with France. Starring Robert Fontaine, Michel Remaudeau, and Pierre Blanchard. Emitai is a riveting and mesmerizing film from Ousmane Sembene.

Set in 1940s Senegal under the rule of France, the film revolves around a conflict between villagers and French government troops over rice as the former feels that their rice crop is sacred while the latter feels that the villagers owe the government as a way to help with the war effort. It’s a film with a simple premise as it explore this air of resentment and ire from villagers who feel like they’re being used for other people’s agendas. While there isn’t much plot in Ousmane Sembene’s screenplay, it does establish this tension among villagers and French troops relating to an event at the beginning of the war where Senegalese troops capture young men and force them to serve the French army much to the dismay of their fathers and family. A year later, troops want rice from these villagers to help their troops as tax payment but the villagers refuse believing their rice is sacred as the women villagers hide the rice leading to a standoff between the villagers and troops.

Semebene’s direction is filled with gorgeous imagery and compositions with so much attention to detail in not just the setting but also in the tone of the film. Shot on location in Senegal with some of the film presented in language of Wolof that the villagers speak throughout the film. Semebene does infuse a lot of wide and medium shots to not just get a scope of the locations but also into the hardship that the villagers do in growing and harvesting their crop of rice as well as why it’s sacred to them. Semebene’s compositions and the way he would frame certain scenes add to this dramatic tension that occur including in how the soldiers and the French officers try to get the villagers to give up the rice for the cause. The villagers and the tribe elders are shown as people with an air of dignity with the elders/chiefs shown in medium shots as they discuss about what to do with one of them already having doubts about the gods they worship in relation to an event early in the film.

Sembene also play into this element of spirituality as the gods do appear as it only create more sense of doubt into what they can do while complications start to emerge within the troops as it relates to a change in leadership. Especially as things get more complicated with the French trying to instill their will and the villagers still refusing to give in believing that this war that their sons are being dragged into is a white man’s war and these young men will return with nothing other than being used as collateral. The film’s final moments is about this air of defiance and pride for the villagers including the women and children but also the fates of those who would defy them. Sembene makes some key decisions in what not to show as it is obvious what is going to happen but there is also this sense of guilt of what would come for the French as it becomes clear that their reasoning for these villagers refusing to give them rice as it play into the themes of colonialism and its fallacies. Overall, Sembene crafts an evocative and haunting film about a standoff between French troops and villagers during World War II over rice.

Cinematographers Georges Caristan and Michel Remaudeau do amazing work with the film’s cinematography as it captures the color of the clothes the villagers wear as well as the locations including the wetlands and rivers that they live in. Editor Gilbert Kikoine does excellent work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts to play into the appearance of the gods the elders worship as well as well as straight cuts to play into the dramatic tension. The sound work of El Hadj N’Bow is fantastic for the way ceremonial drums sound from afar or nearby as it help play into the tension as well as sounds of gunfire and spears being thrown. The film’s wonderful cast feature an ensemble of largely non-actors playing the roles of the villagers and the elders with Robert Fontaine as French commandant at their base in Senegal, Michel Remaudeau as a lieutenant telling the soldiers what to do and Pierre Blanchard as the colonel trying to reason with the villagers.

Emitai is a phenomenal film from Ousmane Sembene. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, and a harrowing study of the fallacies of colonialism during World War II. It’s a film that explore a moment in history that play into events where villagers find themselves being exploited for another country’s cause as they refuse to play a role in the war. In the end, Emitai is a sensational film from Ousmane Sembene.

Ousmane Sembene Films: Black Girl - (Mandabi) – (Xala) – Ceddo – (Camp de Thiaroye) – (Guelwaar) – (Faat Kine) – (Moolade)

© thevoid99 2020

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