Ousmane Sembène

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11/30/2007 10:00 AM |

The Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène, who died this June at age 84, is “African cinema’s founding father,” per the Hobereview of Film Forum’s near-comprehensive retrospective, which begins today and continues through December 13. His work was staunchly political (leaning to radical), and humorously fabular: the series begins with screenings, today and tomorrow, with maybe his most renowned film, Xala. In it, a New African robber baron, bloated with the gains of Western capitalism, takes a third wife in celebration of himself, only to come down with a serious case of impotence on his wedding night — the work, perhaps, of a folk curse.

In a filmmaking career spanning just over forty years, Sembène made nine features and four shorts: his art, the first significant filmmaking to come out of postcolonial Africa, created the need for an production infrastructure, and drew the attention of foreign investors and distributors — but, as is the way of these things, it’s easier for younger African directors to get movies made now than it could ever have been for Sembène (though it’s still not easy). It’s unfortunate that he didn’t get to make more, of course, but the upside is that his oeuvre is among the most swiftly digested of all the essential filmmakers: you can go from zero to literate in the course of Film Forum’s two-week series (with time to spare: the majority of the films are playing for two days). Which you should maybe thing about doing.