Camp Thiaroye

It’s possible that a good half of the greatest African movies ever made are the work of novelist-turned filmmaker Ousmane Sembene (Black Girl, Xala, Ceddo). Camp Thiaroye, his first feature in 11 years, cowritten and codirected by Thierno Faty Sow, recounts an incident that actually occurred in 1944. Returning from four years of European combat in the French army, Senegalese troops are sent to a transit camp, where they have to contend with substandard food and other indignities. An intellectual sergeant major (Ibrahima Sane) gets thrown out of a local bordello when he goes there for a drink; mistaken for an American soldier, he is arrested and beaten by American MPs, which provokes his men into kidnapping an American GI. Then when the Senegalese troops discover that they’re about to be cheated out of half of their back pay, they launch a revolt. Leisurely paced, with some talky stretches devoted to debates among the soldiers, this lengthy feature is neither a simple tract nor a loose, undisciplined fresco, but a novelistic (and often witty) treatment of a complex subject in which all the characters get their due. Sane is especially fine, but the other characters–including a mute and traumatized Senegalese survivor of Buchenwald and a sympathetic if naive white officer–are delineated with comparable depth. The film as a whole offers a multifaceted commentary on colonialism and a nuanced history lesson, and the subtle direction is masterful throughout. With Sijiri Bakaba, Mohamed Camara, Ismaila Cisse, and Jean-Daniel Simon (1988). (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, January 4, 8:15; Saturday, January 5, 8:00; and Monday through Thursday, January 7 through 10, 6:00; 443-3737)

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