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Banel & Adama

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Banel & Adama
Photograph: We Are Parable

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Love blossoms and withers in a drought-stricken village in Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s tragic, Shakespearean romance

Most disaster movies announce themselves with vast tsunamis, spewing volcanoes or cow-flinging twisters. In Senegalese writer-director Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s tough but tender debut, balance with the natural world falls out of kilter in smaller increments – and with it, a love affair and a whole community. 

Set in a tight-knit village in rural Senegal that’s baking dangerously in the 50 degree heat, Banel & Adama follows two star-crossed lovers. The fierce-spirited Banel (Khady Mane) and the mellower Adama (Mamadou Diallo) have been brought together by the death of her first husband. Their arranged marriage, fast-tracked by Adama’s status as chief-in-waiting and the community’s need for him to produce an heir, might have produced a loveless union. Instead, the pair are inseparable, spending their spare time excavating an old sand-covered abode as a new home for themselves beyond the village. Their plan, coupled with Adama’s refusal of the chiefdom, hit like an earthquake in their traditional community.

It’s a powerful love story with a bruised heart 

From sombre Islamic prayers to café-touba-fuelled socialising, Banel & Adama is stitched beautifully together from the fabric of rural Senegalese traditions. But just as Banel’s bright, more modern-feeling clothes offer dazzling bursts of colour in cinematographer Amine Berrada’s washed-out palette, the couple’s quest for emancipation is too confronting for their fellow villagers. The village elders – and fuelled by jealousy, some of the younger ones – are soon blaming them for the growing pile of dead cows lying in their bone-dry fields. ‘You cannot go against your destiny,’ asserts Banel. Going against centuries’ old traditions and superstitions feels just as impossible, though.

Banel & Adama makes powerful use of the drought as a deux ex machina to pull at the threads of their bond, and their community, in sorrowful ways. The two leads, both first-time actors, are excellent: Diallo as the hopeful but increasingly fatalistic Adama; and especially Mane as the abrasive, sometimes self-defeatingly blunt, but determined and dreamy Banel, the kind of unashamedly ‘difficult’ female character cinema could use a lot more of.

The camera clings increasingly tightly to her as Banel slowly senses that her destiny isn’t what she’d hoped it would be. Those haunting close-ups stay with you in a powerful love story with a bruised heart. 

In UK cinemas now.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Ramata-Toulaye Sy
  • Screenwriter:Ramata-Toulaye Sy
  • Cast:
    • Khady Mane
    • Mamadou Diallo
    • Moussa Sow
    • Binta Racine Sy
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