KINI AND ADAMS (1997, Zimbabwe/Burkina Faso, 93 min.), directed by Idrissa Ouedraogo; screenplay by Ouedraogo, Santiago Amigorena, and Olivier Lorelle; cinematography by Jean-Paul Meurisse; music by Wally Badarou; with Vusi Kunene (Kini), David Mohloki (Adams), Nthati Moshesh (Aida), John Kani (Ben), Netsayi Chigwendere (Binja), Fidelis Cheza (Tapera), In English with French subtitles.
The Festival committee is proud to open this year's series with our fourth film by Burkinabe director Idrissa Ouedraogo. The film is set in a remote, impoverished area in Zimbabwe (the film was actually shot just a few miles from the capital city of Harare), a region of dry fields and huge granite rocks, where people try to scrape a living out of the thin soil. Yet the land has its own stunning beauty (beautifully photographed by Jean-Paul Meurisse under Ouedraogo's direction), just as the inhabitants have dreams that supersede their poverty, and they have vital, volatile human relationships.
Kini has a loving family life with his wife Aida and daughter Bongi, but equally important to him is his friendship with Adams, a confirmed bachelor and dreamer. They have somehow acquired the carcass of an automobile, and the two men spend their days and nights tinkering with it. They have plenty of skill and ingenuity, but little in the way of resources to use to purchase the parts that would actually make the thing run. This does not stop them from spending long hours together, telling each other stories and dirty jokes, weaving their plans of moving to the city, becoming taxi drivers, and living a life of comfort and sophistication. Aida becomes increasingly unhappy with her husband's crazy scheme, which keeps him away from home so much.
The situation changes when the nearby granite quarry reopens, and opportunity floods into the village. Kini and Adams obtain jobs thanks to their sharp wits, and they soon find themselves on track to obtain the means to restore the car. With effort, Kini should be able to satisfy the demands both of his friend and his family.
Not surprisingly, complications ensue. Kini finds himself rising in the esteem of Ben, the quarry manager, while Adams remains the distracted dreamer, just another hapless worker. When a throng of prostitutes descends upon them, Adams is no match for the young and hip Binja, and he falls witlessly under her influence. The friendship between the two men crumbles. Further, Kini's boss starts paying undue attention to Aida, and Kini watches all his dreams turning into dust, even as he finally gets the car running. The jokes and good-humored banter of the early part of the film give way to suspicion and miscommunication.
As the film cruises towards its tragic denouement, the automobile becomes the ironic repository of foolish dreams, missed opportunities, and lost love.
Born in Burkina Faso (the former Upper Volta), Idrissa Ouedraogo (pronounced "Wa-dra-o-go") first studied film at the African Institute of Cinematographic Studies in Ouagadougou, the capital. As veterans of the Cascade Festival know, the government of Burkina Faso has for a number of years been extremely supportive of cinema both as an art form and as a means of communication. The result has been the biennial FESPACO film festival in the capital city of Ouagadougou, which brings together films and filmmakers from all over Africa. More important, a growing number of engaging, thoughtful, and well-crafted films have come out of Burkina Faso in the last decade. Many of them have been by Idrissa Ouedraogo.
Among the films screened during past Cascade African Film Festivals, Yaaba (1989) won the International Critics' Prize at Cannes. Tilaï (1990) won the Cannes Grand Jury Award. Samba Traore (1992) was the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Kini & Adams was nominated for the Palme D'Or, the top prize at Cannes.
Ouedraogo has described Kini and Adams as a turning point in his career. To make this film, Ouedraogo went outside his native Burkino Faso to find a pan-African focus. The film was co-produced by entities in Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, and Ethiopia, with funding support from the European Union and the French cable channel Canal+. The film had a budget of $2 million, modest by international standards but sizable for an African film. Ouedraogo chose to make the film in an English-language setting because he wanted to appeal to Anglophone audiences as well as the Francophone audiences that usually see films from Africa. "Africa is very big and the English-speaking part is very important. . . If we want to be independent, we have to create our own market." He felt that it was crucial to give English-speaking audiences a taste for films made by African directors on African subjects.
With the re-entry of South Africa into the Africa mainstream, a new and extensive market for these films has been opened up. In addition, South Africa became a great source for skilled and experienced actors. Ouedraogo knew that he wanted to make a character-driven drama and he would need top-flight actors, so he turned to South Africa for his principal players. Kini is played by Vusi Kunene, a veteran stage and film actor, who starred in Cry Freedom and Cry the Beloved Country. David Mohloki, who plays Adams, is a well-known television actor in South Africa. John Kani (Ben) and Nthati Moshesh (Aida) have worked extensively on stage. The only newcomer was Netsayi Chigwendere, a young Zimbabwean woman living in London, who provides a stunning, completely natural performance as Binja. Ouedraogo worked with her for hours, reportedly making her repeat one crucial scene more than thirty times.
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Kini and Adams is thus a new, more internationalist turn for Idrissa Ouedraogo, but in many ways it remains typical of his work.
Ouedraogo's films frequently give us individuals trapped by conflicting loyalties, such as the opposition between individual desire and the demands of tradition or the larger society, generally with tragic consequences for all concerned. Tradition in his films is never simply given as a positive value--characters (particularly older males) will often claim the prerogatives of tradition to their own advantage. His characters, particularly his central male characters, are generally flawed, full of illusions--that they can escape from old age by taking young wives, or that they can escape social expectations or their own limitations by changing locale. In fact, the theme of the journey is prevalent in his films, but the freedom offered by displacement always turns out to be temporary and illusory.
Ouedraogo does not judge his characters, even as he reveals their weaknesses and their foolishness. They are his brothers and sisters, as they are ours. Typical is the director's following comment on Adams: "When Adams loves, he really loves. He has a good heart. He becomes very weak at the end not because he is a bad man, but because he needs love. He is nothing without his friends."
There has always been a tendency among many in the West to underestimate the complexity of Ouedraogo's films, seeing them as slices of exotic, simple African life. This has at times frustrated the director: "People in Europe should learn a little bit about our culture," he has said. "They read our films at the first level. They think African cinema is always the same thing." While simple in their structure, Ouedraogo's films are always rich in their implications. They combine the presentation of complex, human emotions with subtle political allegory and eternal, universal, difficult themes. Kini and Adams is no exception.
--Notes by Michael Dembrow
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