Sembène 100
Screening Dates
  • October 22, 2023 6:00
  • October 24, 2023 8:30

A masterpiece of African cinema, a trenchant cultural document, and a wonderful, healing comic drama … That he takes a touchy subject like conflicts between Muslims and Christians and treats it with humour and wisdom is a measure of Sembène’s artistic stature … His wit is sublime.”

Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

Ousmane Sembène’s collaborators have suggested that Guelwaar is the film the director was most proud of; for a time, having considered retirement, it was to have stood as his final statement. Through the absence left by the recently deceased activist Pierre Henri Thioune (given the title of Guelwaar, or noble one”), Sembène examines Senegal’s faultlines of religions, generations, genders, and incompatible dreams of the country’s future. The film begins as a tragicomedy—Guelwaar’s body has disappeared, through either bureaucratic malfeasance or the morgue’s honest mistake. This local error becomes a microcosmic religious battle over land and law, and culminates in scenes that resemble Sembène’s preferred form of public engagement: a face-to-face confrontation in which titles and trappings slip away to reveal a common human cause. Though Sembène claimed his starting point for Guelwaar was, like Black Girl, a minor news item, the film points to the legacy of Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso who was assassinated in 1987.

In Wolof and French with English subtitles

“[A] lean and eloquent masterwork … If a film won’t matter on a fundamental level to his countrymen, as films rarely matter here [in North America], Sembène won’t make it.”

Michael Atkinson, Film Comment

“[A story] of force and lucidity … Sembène’s exposition, which stands in contrast to the style of most American and European movies, deserves to be called Homeric.”

Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader