NDEYSAAN/THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS (Senegal, 2002, 90 min.), directed by Mansour Sora Wade; screenplay by Nar Sene from the novel by Mbissane Ngom; cinematography by Pierre-Olivier Larrieu; edited by Christian Billette; production design by Mustapha "Picasso" Ndiaye; music by Wassis Diop; with Hubert Koundé (Yatma), Rokhaya Niang (Maxoye), Gora Seck (Mbanik), Alioune Ndiaye (Amul Yaakaar), Nar Sene (Peer), Thierno Ndiaye Doss (Adu Seck), James Campbell (Baay Sogi), and Dieynaba Niang (Yaay Rama). In Lébou with English subtitles.

Price of forgiveness, oh life! The world moves on and people change; yesterday is not today.

Once upon a time, in the coastal fishing village of Timberling, the powerful village marabout (healer/magician), Baay Sogi, lies dying. The village itself seems afflicted. A dense fog has settled in, keeping the fishermen on shore, and in any case all the fish seem to have mysteriously vanished.

If the dying marabout embodies the village’s spiritual power, then the village’s temporal authority is vested in Peer Nijay, whose manner is authoritarian, self-serving, and hypocritical.

When a marabout from another village is brought in to try to "heal" the village by making a sacrificial offering to the sea, Mbanick refuses to participate in the ceremony (which incidentally does not good), calling the marabout a charlatan. His action provokes criticism from Peer Nijay, who tries to get Baay Sogi to denounce his son. Baay Sogi, however, does the opposite, praising his son’s instincts and ridiculing Peer Nijay. Just before he dies, the marabout gives his son his amulet, effectively transferring his powers to him.

Mbanick buries his father beneath the village’s Sacred Tree, and soon thereafter falls into a powerful trance as he is taken over by his father’s spirit. (His father’s spirit has come to initiate him.) Under this powerful presence, he chops down the tree and fashions it into a dugout canoe. With this canoe, he goes out to sea. When he returns with a boatload of fish for the hungry village, the fog has miraculously lifted. Mbanick is treated like a hero, the proper heir to their beloved marabout. But soon the story has moved to its next crisis.

Mbanick and Yatma (son of Peer Nijay) have always been best friends, despite the evident friction between their fathers. They are very different young men, however. Mbanick is strong, circumspect, reluctant to take on his father’s power, but ultimately worthy of the spiritual power that he has inherited. Yatma, on the other hand, is a man of passion–jealous, spoiled, and physically powerful.

In fact, via a wonderful shadow-puppet story-within-a-story, we learn that the two young men are the products of two distinct sets of power. Mbanick’s ancestor, the best fisherman on the coast, battled the great shark, the Lord of the Sea, and in so doing was granted the power to transform. Yatma’s ancestor, on the other hand, was wounded by the great lion, survived, and by escaping took on the power of the Lord of the Savannah.

Their friendship will soon be tested–and will ultimately fail–in a love triangle with the stunningly attractive Maxoye. The conflict between the Lord of the Sea and the Lord of the Savannah will play itself out to its inevitable end, moving through a cycle of death, rebirth, revenge, and reconciliation.

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Like the characters in The Price of Forgiveness, Mansour Sora Wade is a member of the Lébou ethnic group. Born in Senegal in 1952, he studied in France, receiving an advanced degree in Film Studies at the University of Paris VIII. From 1977 to 1985 he directed the audiovisual archives for the Senegalese Ministry of Culture. He made his first short film, Contraste, in 1983. This was followed in 1989 by Fary L’ânesse, based on a folk tale about a man who wants to possess the "perfect" woman. Taal Pex appeared in 1991 and Picc Mi in 1992. (Fary L’ânesse and Picc Mi were shown as part of the Festival’s Family Film Day in 1999.) The documentary Aîda Souka also appeared in 1992. In 1994 he produced Iso Lo, a documentary on the singer Ismaël Lô (who starred in the excellent film Tableau Ferraille). The Price of Forgiveness, whose original title, Ndeysaan, is a Wolof expression of condolence that might best be translated as "Lord Have Mercy," is his first feature film.

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Ndeysaan is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First of all, it is a gorgeous film, rich on both the visual and the auditory levels. The director does some very interesting things with color, particularly with respect to costumes. He is very deliberate in the way that certain colors are assigned to certain characters, and the way that colors change over the course of the film. At the beginning of the film, prior to Mbanick’s liberation of the village, nearly all the villagers wear dark, drab colors. (The only exceptions are the griot and Amul, his son.) Then, as the fog dissipates, the village erupts in a splendid array of color, and clothing color comes to clearly differentiate one character from another.

The film is also interesting in the way that it incorporates elements of the folk tale and the oral tradition into its filmmaking technique. Mansour Sora Wade has found a way to merge his interests in traditional tales with the technique of a feature film. The film gives us a world in which the supernatural and the "real" coexist without effort, and in which "realism" and "fantasy" coexist in terms of style. Information comes to us via a voice-over griot-narrator (who we are led to understand is the grown-up Amul, the young son of the village griot, who worships Mbanick throughout the film). Dialogue is important, but ultimately secondary to the ongoing flow of the narrative.

Despite the overall simplicity of the narrative structure, the central characters in the film are not simple. Yatma and Maxoye in particular move far beyond the kind of stock characters that one expects from a traditional folk tale. "What interests me above all in this story," director Mansour Sora Wade has said, "is that it shows that characters are not set, nor determined, once and for all. They evolve, and they’re often self-contradictory, ambiguous. My characters express themselves through their weaknesses and their qualities, both of which for me are essential in order to communicate their ‘humanity.’ Maxoye, for example, whose feelings change, passes from hatred to understanding, from vengeance to love. She ends up accepting Yatma’s crime as the tragic proof of his love for her." The central emotion at the end of the film is indeed one of acceptance and understanding, of forgiveness (both individual and communal) and moving forward–but only at a great cost. If young Amul is indeed the visioning force in the film, if it is through his eyes that we see events unfold, then we also share in the wisdom that he has acquired.

The other outstanding thing about this film is its depiction of women. Mbanick’s mother, Rama, is a powerful, clear-sighted woman, a locus of moral values. Maxoye clearly follows in her vein; she is in many ways a remarkable woman; it makes mythical sense that in Maxoye’s womb the Sea and the Savannah will be reconciled, the Lord will show Mercy, and the village will be renewed.

--Notes by Michael Dembrow

 

 

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