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
According to Senegalese filmmaker Mansour Sora Wade, Ndeysaan reflects his position that “belief [in the supernatural] and pragmatism co-exist naturally.” Contemporary Africa will drown if it drifts too far from its tribal past.
In a pre-colonial coastal village, waves of fog roll in, keeping fishermen out of the water and thus imperiling the village’s existence. Two best friends love the same woman, beauteous, dignified Maxoye, who loves only Mbanick. Mbanick is the son of the village marabount. In a trance, Mbanick fells the tree under which his father is buried, carving a canoe from the trunk, taking it to sea, disappearing into the heart of the fog. When he emerges, it is with a treasure: the countless fish that he caught. Mbanick now not only has Maxoye but everyone’s respect and gratitude for conquering the fog and saving the village. One night, at sea, Yatma, jealous, kills his friend, whose dying vow promises revenge. Maxoye, pregnant with Mbanick’s son, marries Yatma, knowing he murdered her beloved. The “price of forgiveness” is that theirs will be an unconsummated union and Yatma will have to raise his victim’s son, also named Mbanick. While Maxoye eventually relents and the couple have a child of their own, the sea exacts its own price. In effect, the sea’s forgiveness requires the forfeit of all our lives—and the tale’s survival.
As the tree falls in slow motion, villagers appear as a procession of phantoms—ghosts of the past, but also the ghosts the villagers will one day be.
Analytical and gorgeous, rigorous and haunting, Ndeysaan is narrated by an old man, the son of a griot. He prophesies the end of the African oral folk tradition. At the same time, the film itself underscores cinema’s capacity to keep the past, tradition, and hope alive.