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
Filmed in Burkino Faso but set in the pre-colonial past, Idrissa Ouédraogo’s The Law attributes a harsh injunction to an authoritarian/patriarchal bias and the need for social order.
Saga is returning home after a long voyage away, planning on marrying Nogma. Before he can enter the village, Kougri informs him that Nogma has married their father in his absence. It was a “forced” marriage. Nomenaba desires Saga’s acceptance of Nogma as stepmother. Defiantly, Saga remains at the village outskirts, where the pair consummate their adultery and incest. It falls to Kougri to kill his brother. “I’m sorry,” he says to Nogma before informing her that her disgraced father has hanged himself. “You bitch! You made me a widow,” her mother shouts at her daughter at her husband’s burial. “I never want to see you again!” Meanwhile, his life spared by Kougri, Saga is again a wanderer—as is Nogma, in search of him and pregnant, after she learns the truth. A troubled conscience afflicts Kougri, who selfishly followed his heart rather than honoring tradition. News of his mother’s illness splits the reunited couple. Upon Saga’s reappearance, Nomenaba exiles Kougri, who, before leaving, finally kills his brother.
If Ouédraogo’s film is Wagnerian in its observation of the role of sex in familial and communal discord, its intimacy and minimalist style are otherwise. The opening identifies Saga as a solitudinous figure, a solitary moving slowly by mule across a barren landscape, in order to suggest Nogma’s contrary need for social existence that helps explain her acquiescence to a loveless marriage—in effect, a symbolic one to Saga at a generational remove. For Nomenaba, the marriage symbolically made him his own son, whose youthful existence he envies.
“The law”—both men’s laws and “the way things are”—exiles all men from civilization.