‘Banel & Adama’ Review: A Dreamlike, Drought-Ridden Senegalese Debut

The interlinked names of the lovers have an uncommon energy in Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s haunting, halting  “Banel & Adama.” They play time and again as a whispery lullaby on the soundtrack. They cowl the sheets of paper on which Banel (Khady Mane) compulsively writes their names, like a schoolgirl working towards cursive on the identify of her crush. There’s an innocence to it initially, as if Banel, whose unusual thoughts we largely occupy, is solely delighting within the sound and form of their togetherness. But that’s when “Banel & Adama” is a love story, and earlier than it descends, slightly too hesitantly however with a subtly seductive energy nonetheless, into drought and insanity and possibly, cosmic retribution. The sun-and-superstition-soaked story of an African woman contending with destiny and people custom has some precedent in Rungano Nyoni’s wonderful “I Am Not a Witch.” But right here, as the brilliant imagery begins to trace paradoxically at creeping darkness, we will now not ensure that witchcraft isn’t precisely what’s at work. 

In a small village in northern Senegal, Banel and her husband Adama (Mamadou Diallo) are in love. Glorying within the impressionistic prettiness of DP Amine Berrada’s camerawork, with its signature pictures of solar flares and sand dunes and slender boats being punted in silhouette by glittering waters, they have an inclination to Adama’s small herd of cows by day. At night time they inform one another tales, the digicam now lingering on the lovers’ fingers and lips. When Adama’s formidable mom (Binta Racine Sy) orders that Banel keep again to assist the opposite village ladies with extra historically female duties like laundry or prepping the fields for the approaching rains, Banel scowls. She practices her slingshot intention and spits on dying flies, sulking till Adama’s return. In the evenings, the couple goes to a hill close by to dig — beneath the sands are buried homes that Banel desires of reclaiming and transferring into along with her beloved, away from the stifling traditions of the village. And additionally, maybe, away from sure occasions in her life. 

But the rains don’t come. Adama, who married Banel in response to Muslim customized after the dying of his elder brother, her first husband, is predicted to take over as village chief however refuses the position, and now he wonders if his defaulting on village customs has by some means introduced on the drought. But if there are supernatural forces at work, they extra doubtless whirl round Banel, whom we perceive was in love with Adama lengthy earlier than her marriage to his brother, and whose proud, peculiar nature suggests she is likely to be able to any ruthlessness in an effort to get what she needed.

“Banel and Adama…” she hears the phrases murmured in her desires. Now they now not sound like a soothing litany however an more and more determined incantation, and because the cows begin to die within the warmth, their hides shrinking to dusty suede within the ceaseless solar, and because the locals begin to abandon the desiccated village, Banel’s conduct turns into extra erratic. She kills lizards and tosses them into a hearth. She shoos away the little boy (Amadou Ndiaye) whose intent stare causes her such unease. She argues with Racine (Moussa Sow), her pious twin brother. And when she will get annoyed with Adama’s postponement of their plans, she drags him as much as the half-uncovered homes and claws into the sands along with her naked fingers, hectoring him to do the identical. Could her earlier contentment have been the results of a spell gone improper? Or maybe, a spell gone precisely proper, however now its unexpected value has come due?

Sy’s movie is a curious little fable, not fairly absolutely fashioned in its remaining levels, and sometimes so sedate and opaque, beneath Bachar Mar-Khalifé’s melodic, piano-forward rating, that it seems like it’s drowsing. But it’s a putting debut nonetheless, particularly because it revolves, with sleek poetry across the inside experiences of such a curious, unknowable girl. Banel, fantastically performed by Mane who, even after we don’t, appears to completely perceive her character’s joys and miseries and her flashes of prideful female ego (“Look at him,” she murmurs in voiceover, “No, look at me. Aren’t I a woman?”) is the one who will, for all her protestations of devotion, inherit the movie. Perhaps the love between Banel and Adama, like life, requires water. And in a time of drought, it will possibly solely shrivel, just like the baked pores and skin of some useless animal, revealing its evil skeleton beneath.

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