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Most of the men seem alienated or listless, sitting with heads down outside the court, listening to the trial on loudspeakers, sometimes having laconic and rather intriguing conversations. The women are more active—dyeing cloth, weaving, handling the food and the childcare. Sissako is even confident enough to be absurd: at one point the kids watch a mock-Western on TV starring Danny Glover in which the sheriff and the outlaws shoot it out but the only people who get killed seem to be civilians, which in itself is a symbol of the situation in Africa vis-à-vis the West.
The trial itself is the film’s centerpiece. On the plaintiff’s side we have eloquent denunciations by a writer, a professor, and others, talking about the tremendous burden of debt hanging on the neck of Africa, how it relates to colonialism, how the World Bank’s policies only reinforce servitude and the shattering of traditional communities, and how privatization degrades Africa’s right to its own land, water, education and health. Sissako also gives the devil his due, so to speak, in the person of the lawyer representing the World Bank, who presents the kind of counter-arguments you’d expect, credible if not humane, claiming good motives, economic progress and concessions on debt—notwithstanding the occasional intervention of a local goat, who seems to want to give the lawyer a good butt with his horns.
This is a polemical film, a film of outrage about what has been done and continues to be done by the prosperous north enriching itself at the expense of the south, and the tremendous cost in human life and dignity. But the careful creation of atmosphere, the film’s accurate feel for the rhythms of life, and the fiercely intelligent script, ensure that it doesn’t just leave you feeling angry, but wiser, more determined, more empowered.