Xala (Senegal, 1975):

When a skittering coup sends the white leaders packing, Ousmane Sembene paints the Chamber of Commerce in Godardian, cartoonlike primary colors, the better to underline the sardonic geometrics of Senegal's new rulers presenting themselves with valises filled with loot. "African socialism" in name only, accommodating notional independence from office to home -- middle-aged businessman Thierno Laye, food importer and member of the committee, exercises his "Africanity" by getting a third wife, ribbon-wrapped Mercedes delivered to the comatose ceremony. Guests schmooze and the "Star Band de Dakar" drones on, while traditionally garbed Wife No. 1 (Seune Samb) and bewigged Wife No. 2 (Younouss Seye) share an awkward Coke. A curse is to unspool, literally: xala, impotence, so this groom is unable to deflower his young bride (Dieynaba Niang). Pre-Viagra, Laye scrambles from witchdoctor to witchdoctor to have the pox lifted as his bourgeois world crumbles, bouncing checks and proliferating domestic crises. The search for the hard-on, virility at the cost of dignity, is key to the study of neo-colonial delusion: the protagonist's manhood is linked to his economic success and authority at home, all erected upon a bogus sense of self. Impotence fills in for cultural denial, imported water and modernity tenuously connected to African roots via superstition, orders given in French and denied, in Wolof, by a disapproving daughter. Yet Laye's flaccidness is an outgrowth of a westernized society suspended between Europe and Africa, sewer water dumped from bottles, the "technical fetishism" of corrupt political powers (it's no accident that Makhouredia Gueye, from Mandabi, plays the Minister). A revolt needs a target, and Laye feels the spectacular Return of the Oppressed when misshapen beggars (earlier tagged "human rubbish") invade his home for another reversal of authority -- wedding gown fitted mockingly on a lamp post, the undesirables' vengeful spit-a-ton both provides the ejaculation denied the protagonist while remaining an act of impotence of its own. With Fatim Diagne, Miriam Niang, Iliamane Sagua, Abdoulaye Seck, and Douta Seck.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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