Written and directed by Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako (Waiting for Happiness, Life on Earth), Bamako provides a refreshing African variation on the conventional political drama. Set in the backyard of a house in the Malian city of Bamako, this parable follows a mock trial, in which the plaintiff is African civil society and the accused are Western financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF. The ‘structural adjustment programmes’ imposed by these organisations, it’s argued, have crippled underdeveloped African countries, forced to slash spending on social services and to privatise their natural resources in order to service their debts. One of the prosecutors charges that five million African children will die needlessly in the next five years alone. As Mali’s ex-Culture Minister Aminata Traore maintains, despite being associated with poverty, ‘Africa is a victim of its wealth.’
In the hands of another director, Bamako might have become a dourly didactic exercise about the iniquities of globalization, but Sissako contrasts the formal proceedings with snapshots of everyday life: the marital break-up of a singer Mele (Aissa Maiga) and her husband Chaka (Tiecoura Traore); a wedding; women dying clothes and drawing water; communal prayers; neighbours chatting; a fever-ridden child. Attractively shot in warm tones by DOP Jacques Besse (Chechen Lullaby, Profit and Nothing But) and with impassioned contributions from the non-professional witnesses drawn from all sections of the population, there’s even time for executive producer Danny Glover to appear in a spoof spaghetti Western sequence.