Monday, 30 January 2012


With the finest political satire, for the bungling powers that be, whatever can go wrong will go wrong, birthing surefire hilarity from tragic misfortune. Certainly, with 1975's Xala, the tale of a middle-aged official's struggles with the onset of horribly-timed impotence, eventually resulting in his professional ruination, legendary Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene appears to have devised an indubitable formula for caustic hilarity.
 As cocksure, polygamous El Hadji, embezzling funds for the needy in order to take a third wife, only to fail to rise to the occasion,  Thierno Leye is delightfully amusing and self-effacing. Suspecting himself the victim of a 'xala' infertility curse, the dignitary plumbs suprising depths to lift the spell, cavorting in various states of undress at the behest of 'marabout' witchdoctors, providing some memorable, amusing moments.
 The luminary's desperate exertions, coupled with several titillating run-ins with his dysfunctional extended family, provide a humorous counterpoint to constant, vivid reminders of the grim poverty of the neglected post-colonial Senegalese underclasses. With rich imagery, bureaucrats wash their cars with Evian, while deformed beggars forage in the street, Sembene's camera commendably reminding us of the cadaverous squalor of the gutter. Preoccupied with his own ultimately insignificant woes, El Hadji's complete emasculation is an apt metaphor for his complete political inadequacy.
  However, though fertile with potent satirical comment, this allegory of corruption and retribution comes up short. Though enlivened by an eclectic musical score, furnished with rich, intoxicating African beats and instrumentation, the film becomes a frustratingly laborious experience, chiefly due to its phlegmatic pace. Although demonstrating early promise, particularly in scenes between Leye and Younouss Seye as his thoroughly acerbic, griping second wife Oumi, Sembene, like his protagonist, can't keep it up. Despite scoring a disturbingly striking, memorable climax, Xala takes far too long to get there and is far too limp and lethargic to have enough lead in its pencil.

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