WÊND KÛUNI (Gaston Kabore, 1982)

The following is one of the entries from my list of the 100 greatest films (through 2006) from Africa, Latin America & the Caribbean, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

The first film from Burkina Faso is wonderful—a beauteous, visually unaffected pastoral about a 12-year-old boy. It takes place in the early nineteenth century, before the white man’s intrusion, along with his Christianity, before Islam’s intrusion. The film is quiet, tranquil, as rhythmic as a river. The baa-ing of sheep and chirping of birds are recurrent sounds.
     The father apparently abandoned the mother when the boy was an infant. At ten, the latter and another child in the village fell ill, causing his mother to be branded a witch. Mother and son were driven out, their hut, burned. That day, his mother died, and he ran for hours, dropping down from exhaustion and nearly dying himself. The film opens as an itinerant merchant gives him water, bringing him back to life, and takes him to the nearest village on his way, depositing him there. The boy cannot speak. Tinga and Lale adopt him, naming him Wênd Kûuni, “God’s Gift.” This is his second rebirth. A couple’s domestic quarrel leads to the husband’s suicide, which Wênd Kûuni uncovers. This restores his voice—his third rebirth. With this voice he discloses his history to his sister, Pognere, thus becoming a storyteller: another rebirth.
     Gaston Kabore’s film consists mostly of the family’s daily life. The boy’s adoptive mother hardly ever seems to stop working; she is shown performing numerous tasks. (The village men, by contrast, seem on perpetual holiday.) Wênd Kûuni shepherds the family’s flock. In one shot, he is walking towards the camera in the tall, dry grass in the fields. The animals in front of him become visible later than he—a magical moment. In another passage, we watch Wênd Kûuni make a flute.
     Kabore’s Bûud Yam (1997), which I haven’t seen, catches up with Wênd Kûuni’s life.

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