|A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Fanta Régina Nacro, France/Burkina Faso, 2004, 100 mins, French with English subtitles
Cast: Naky Se Savane, Moussa Cissé, Georgette Paré, Amada Ouédraougo
This violent and disturbing political satire comes from Fanta Régina Nacro, Burkina Faso's first woman director, and provides a rich and multifaceted take on late Twentieth Century Africa.
In a fictional, unnamed African country the leaders of the Nayak and Bonandé peoples agree to meet for conciliatory talks, after ten years of crippling civil war between their two factions. But while the encounter is outwardly polite and promising, neither side can entirely forgive the actions of the other on the battle field. The Bonandé leader Colonel Theo (Cissé) is a charismatic poet with an unspeakable secret, while the Nayak President (Ouédraougo) seems initially untrustworthy. Can the two sides overcome the tension that constantly threatens to erupt in fresh atrocities?
Apart from an introductory sequence and a few brief flashbacks, the entire drama unfolds in the Bonandé encampment, following the preparations for the talks and then the party to celebrate the tentative new accord. Both the scenario and the characters are richly Shakespearean - Theo and the President are flawed leaders with manipulating spouses, while there is even a jester in the form of Tomoto (Rasmané Ouédraougo), the simple but dangerous village idiot. And despite this wide vista of players, Nacro's skilful story telling is able to provide sympathetic insight into all the different points of view at the table.
This generosity to the characters in the piece arguably comes at the cost of pace, however. The picture does drag a little in its middle section, as the peace talks turn into a banquet that provides some of the film's comedy but is slow to advance the story. ('More caterpillars, Mr President?') The climax is electrifying enough to push these scenes far to the back of one's mind, though.
It should be noted that The Night of Truth carries an 18 certificate for a reason - it is at times very graphic in its portrayal of violence. The murals of battlefield scenes around the walls of the Bonandé encampment are reflected in flashbacks to earlier massacres that make for very uncomfortable viewing. The film carries the motif of death throughout, from the opening graveyard scene to the symbolic drink with the dead that the soldiers attending the talks insist on before they will eat together. And Edna, wife of the Nayak President, is so crushed by the murder of her son in the hostilities that with her alarming blue lipstick she seems almost a corpse herself - a stand-out performance by Naky Se Savane.
'War opens our souls, and demons move in', confesses Theo towards the end of the picture. This powerful story reflects the demons of recent conflicts in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, but deeper still reflects on the frailty of the soul of man. It is not just a sombre African satire, but also a jolting and frightening journey into a universal heart of darkness.