I recall a period in which I was searching desperately for films directed by Ousmane Sembene, always coming up empty handed. Now I have watched most of his iconic movies from Xala (1975) to Ceddo (1975). The latest addition to that list is Faat Kiné (2000). I had no idea that he released a film in 2000 and that said film is centred on the struggles of women in postcolonial West Africa, caught between two worlds, i.e. that of tradition and that of modernity.
Faat Kiné critiques the place of women, in particular successful and unmarried women, in post-colonial Senegal. Faat Kiné the titular character has had two pregnancies out of wedlock, first as a young teenager after being seduced by a professor at the school she attended (after this, Faat Kiné’s father tried to kill her by burning her but her mother* comes to her rescue shielding Faat Kiné so that her back gets burnt) and second as a young woman engaged to be married to a man who ends up taking her money and fleeing for Europe, unsuccessfully.
After these encounters, Faat Kiné focuses on raising and taking care of her children and working in a gas station that she eventually comes to manage (she starts out as an attendant).
Faat Kiné had some comic moments but I am not sure I can call it a comedy.
Upon passing their BACs Faat Kiné’s children try to matchmake their mother with a businessman so that she doesn’t get too lonely when they leave for university. I thought their gesture was nice…and intrusive. There was a bit of conflict as the man they wanted to be with their mother, Uncle Jean is a Christian business man while Faat Kiné is Muslim. However religious differences do not reduce their attraction to each other, even without the intervention of Djib and Aby.
The movie climaxes at a party held in honour of Djib and Aby due to their educational success. In this party both their fathers come, each of them are surprised to see that Faat Kiné has succeeded and is relatively wealthy. Though they have not been active in the lives of their children, both fathers comes to the party to participate and in doing that lay their claim in the achievements of their children. There is a scene where Aby is seated with her father and after the pleasantries asks him if he wouldn’t mind financing her university education. He immediately becomes defensive and angry, predictably.
Djib and his father have a serious verbal showdown in the presence of all the party goers. In that argument Djib challenges ideas on what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in the traditional African sense. You see, despite everything both fathers do not think that they have done anything wrong and expect to just waltz into the lives of their children after abandoning them for most of their lives.
In the end, both fathers are booed and hooted out of the party with Faat Kiné’s friends leading the way, clicking their fingers all the while.
Can I seize this moment to say how much I admired Faat Kiné and her friends. Here’s a clip showing the three of them discussing their lives as unwed mothers living on their own terms.
The movie ends with Faat Kiné and Uncle Jean obviously becoming a couple. I really liked the scene where the both of them are heading up to Faat Kiné’s bedroom and the househelp happens to see them. The expression on her face was priceless and when Faat Kiné gestured that the househelp keep quite about what she just saw, I laughed.
*I recognised the actress playing Faat Kiné’s mother from another movie Hyenas.
Note: By the time this post goes up eccentricyoruba will be globe-trotting and will be unable to reply to comments until the third week of September.