Banel & Adama
Banel & Adama is a film of striking individuality, characteristic of its debut director’s youth at a festival largely dominated by the old guard. Its setting also provides a head-turning break from custom, being shot on location in rural northern Senegal.
While the title evokes a vivacious romantic comedy (and Ramata-Toulaye Sy, the French-Senegalese voice behind a film whose impact lingers residually, has cited the genre as a faint influence on the film), Banel & Adama is something altogether more deliciously twisted and intriguing. The titular couple are the young sweethearts of their village, their arranged companionship perhaps the only one sustained by genuine love. They spend much of their free time digging up a local plot of land, underneath which lie abandoned houses they hope to restore to their domestic function. Their peers and elders, however, believe the houses to be cursed. It’s the first inclination of the story’s heightened, fabulist quality.
While the two are smitten with one another, their marriage wasn’t always planned. Banel was first married to Adama’s older brother and village chief, Yero, whose death left a power vacuum atop the community’s structures. By the law of lineage, Adama is now required to take the reins of power, but refuses. His will is to build a life with Banel that is not conducive to the responsibility of authority. Shortly after his refusal, a strange spate of phenomena begin to wreak havoc on the village, including unexplainable deaths and a devastating, brutal drought.
Sy’s sparse narrative wraps up many engaging ideas in a bow, and disarmingly – and sometimes alarmingly – subverts our innate expectations of gender. Adama is cool, collected, quiet and rather vulnerable, while Banel’s fierceness reflects a simmering penchant for violence. She carries around a slingshot, targeting small creatures at will in a pattern of behaviour one would expect from Lynn Ramsey’s Kevin sooner than the apparent heroine of what initially appears to be a fairytale romance.
The director’s familiarity with Shakespearian and Greek tragedy seeps its way into the film, its magical realist streak garnering interpretation as a modern, African adaptation of Romeo and Juliet skewered by a contemporary spine. Its fantastical elements speak to climate anxiety in a way reminiscent of the recent Chilean environmental allegory, The Cow Who Sang a Song into the Future, while its beautiful cinematography morphs its west African setting dextrously, working towards its aesthetically arresting, biblical conclusion like a snake whose manoeuvring goes unnoticed until its fangs have already sunk in.
While Banel & Adama may have been more at home at the festival’s Un Certain Regard subdivision of competition, it does stand tall as a compelling introduction to a distinctive voice in French and African cinema.
Banel & Adama does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Banel & Adama here: