Monday, May 7, 2012


Watching 'Waiting For Happiness' is like the equivalent to sitting back and listening to a relaxing instrumental song. Sometimes you don't need any words or lyrics to actually feel the music. Although there's a plot, you get more caught up in the beautiful imagery, soundtrack and day to day life of the various characters in the film. Abderrahmane Sissako's 'Waiting For Happiness' centers around an isolated/detached young man ("Abdallah") who visits his native land (an intentionally unnamed African village) before moving to Europe. Abdallah's detachment comes from the fact that he's more westernized then everyone else in his village: He dresses more modern, doesn't speak the local language and doesn't like the native music of his people. While home, he spends most of the film walking along the perimeter observing the people while trying to remain unnoticed and unengaged. Abdallah's observations turn in to various sub plots and side stories involving; a Chinese immigrant who has somehow ended up in Africa and develops a crush on one of the local women, a depressed electrician and his father figure-like relationship with a precocious orphaned boy (although it could be his nephew), a little girl who takes singing lessons from what I assume is her musically inclined mother (its never fully spelled out if its her mother or not) and a middle local who's close friend has just died. So while part of the film is partially character study and story of a detached young man who cant connect with his roots, its also about the various stories that come out of his village that either briefly cross paths with one another or not at all. Consider 'Waiting For Happiness' a poetic observation. If there is ever a film influenced by the work of Claire Denis (specifically 'Chocolat' & 'Beau Travail'), it would be 'Waiting For Happiness'. From the hints & implications, to the dreamy atmosphere and exploration in to the beauty of Africa (although this time the film is actually told through the eyes of someone African).

Although the film takes place mostly in the desert, Abderrahmane Sissako manages to make an amazingly colorful film by making great use of the clothing and fabrics that the people in the village wear. Additionally, notice all the various shades of skin from person to person in the pictures below. I'm not sure if it was conscious or not, but fashion is a key element in this film...

What sets waiting for happiness apart from other recent African films like 'Bamako' (another feature directed by Abderrahmane), 'A Screaming Man', 'Johnny Mad Dog', 'U-Carmen' and 'White Material' is that although there are hints of poverty and many references to sorrow and how impoverished parts of Africa are, the film focuses more on beauty, culture shock, missed connections, romance the idea of youth coming of age and dry/non-subtle humor. There's no military presence, apartheid, uprisings or bloody revolts. Just meditative existentialism. There's scenes of laughter, celebrations, music and, like most of Abderrahmane's work, he manages to capture every shade, skin tone and distinct feature that Africa has to offer even though the story is set in one small village. This isn't a common thing among African films. Look at any popular/well known film which features Africa as the centerpiece. Nine times outta ten you're gonna to see a film about severe struggle. I understand that the economic situation, famine and genocide in certain African countries are so heavy that its impossible for it to not be represented on film as its too much a part of life, but sometimes its nice to see the beauty of the largest continent on the planet which often gets overlooked by many filmmakers (which is more than understandable). Its great that a director like Abderrahmane Sissako can bring some balance to the content of African cinema. This should be good news for people who became either desensitized or turned off by all the films like cry freedom, dry white season or the power of one. Additionally, it seems like in order to venture out of south Africa in the realm of film you have turn to art house cinema these days. In the last decade, filmmakers like Abderrahmane Sissako (west and central Africa), Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (central Africa), Abdellatif Kechiche (norther and southern Africa) and Claire Denis (western and northern Africa) have taken audiences all over the continent of Africa whereas mainstream/Hollywood films seem to be fixated on just South Africa.


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