DREAMS OF DUST (Laurent Salgues, 2006)

I have just added this entry to my list of the 100 Greatest Films from Africa, Latin America & the Caribbean, which I invite you to visit elsewhere in my blog, if you haven’t already done so.

From France, Canada and Burkina Faso, French writer-director Laurent Salgues’s Rêves de poussière is a vivid depiction of hard labor, sustained by hopes for a better future, and poverty. Mocktar, a Nigerian farmer, has just lost his youngest daughter. Burdened by guilt for inadequately providing for wife and family, he travels to northeast Burkina Faso to work in the gold mines. An official explains, “The gold rush is over.” His response gets Mocktar hired: “I’m just looking for a job.”
     The film opens with an extreme long-shot of sand being blown by wind screen-right across the landscape. A human figure enters the frame and proceeds, by foot, screen-left—in the face of the wind. This is Mocktar symbolically braving life’s misfortunes. Neocolonialist exploitation of African resources and peasants contributes to African poverty. “The gold we risk our lives for,” Mocktar himself notes later on, “is for white people.” At the camp, Mocktar is attracted to Coumba, who has lost family members in a shaft collapse there, and whose young daughter Mocktar helps with his pay, redeeming himself from guilt over his own recent loss. At the last, in an extreme long-shot, he is shown journeying home.
     Much of the film is given over to showing, in documentary fashion, the harsh, dangerous labor involved in different facets of the mining. (Mocktar, his first day, suffers a horrible accident.) We also see Mocktar’s after-work interactions with an older miner who takes Mocktar under his wing; but when this gentleman replaces the bullying, uncaring boss, we see the start of his transformation into a facsimile of that boss—black against black at the behest of white interests: an appropriation of available limited power.
     Cinematographed by Crystel Fournier, images are hauntingly dreamlike. Wind-swept dust is a recurrent motif.

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