Hull Literature Festival 2001 8th - 18th November
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African Visions
Film at Hull Screen, Hull Central Library
Thursday 8th November
Reviewed by: Emma Willis. Wyke Sixth Form College

Wanting to broaden my knowledge of world cinema, and get the opportunity to write about what I had seen, I agreed to watch a film from the African Visions part of the Hull Literature Festival. I had a vague idea of what African cinema would be like, but wasn't really sure my expectations would be accurate. I was told that Xala was, in a sense, the African answer to new wave cinema, and so, having recently studied French new wave, I envisaged some unusual narrative structure similar to the likes of Resnais, or experimental cinematography I had observed in Godards work. I found surprisingly, that this was not at all the case. Xala pretty much follows all the cinematic conventions of any classical Hollywood narrative. What was different however, was its content. An extremely political film, through the camera Sembene manages to portray the impotence of African government with clever accuracy.

The plot: protagonist El Hadj is part of Africa's ruling elite during the black community's first moment of political independence. To celebrate, Hadj marries his third wife (who is younger than his daughter), but on his wedding night is struck down with the Xala, a curse of temporary impotence inflicted by a social outcast. El Hadj pursues every possible angle to regain his virility, which eventually leads to financial ruin, the break up his new marriage and a shameful exit from government office.

The message; what goes around comes around. What might seem new and elite does not always bring change. Xala illustrates how the replacement of government and colonial rule under white leaders does not make the other race of rulers any less reactionary.

If I'm honest, Xala was not my cup of tea. But saying that, I would definitely recommend that you watch it if the chance arises. It may not score highly on entertainment value, but to aspiring film students it will make valuable reference material and to everyone else an educational cinematic experience. Infer what you can from it. If none of the above seem good enough reasons, then go for the laugh. It really is quite funny in parts.

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