Camp de Thiaroye (1988)
Historical drama based on real events leading to a famous incident if your knowledge of world history goes deep enough to cover French West African Armed Forces, which mine doesn't. After helping the French fight in World War 2, the African forces were held in a camp on African soil that was meant to ease their transition back into civilian life. However, the living conditions closely resembled prison camps, with the ranking French officers taking a position of superiority over the foot soldiers that helped them in the war. It becomes a Stanford Prison Experiment for systemic racism.
Sembene has never been a subtle director. He films a soldier looking at the barbed wire cutting him off from his homeland. He then pushes the camera in on the wire and in on the soldier's face in case you don't get it. This simplified, allegorical direction gets all the points across to where I can say this is Sembene's masterwork, but not a masterwork by itself. The heavy visuals are matched by the broadly-drawn noble, well-educated or shell-shocked African soldiers, but where this movie scores a knockout is in the portrayal of the white officers.
None of the white officers are sadistic racists, and none are surprisingly woke for their time. When they deny the African's meat with their food, this isn't done out of spite, but the colonial, military belief that it's more important for the officers to get what little meat there is. When we learn the African's are being paid less for their work, it's because of the exchange rate from France to their country. The white officers aren't making excuses, they're just naive, and we can see from our distance that the behavior is just as racist as committing the same actions with their eyes wide open.★ ★ ★ - Good
The film is 2.5 hours long and as much as I'm the first person to complain about long films and compliment short ones, it was a very absorbing drama. The kind of film that doesn't move swiftly or make every moment matter, but it was good to live among these characters, especially with how it all comes boiling to a climax.
I watched Moolaadé last night, and didn't get absorbed into it, so it was good to follow it up with this film, which serves as a great reminder for the treasures to be found in my massive Director Marathon.