There has recently been a deal of high-minded criticism directed at American and European films, such as Blood Diamond and The Last King of Scotland, that look at Africa from the point of view of white foreigners; most of this criticism is, I think, misplaced. Anyway, those needing an antidote should see Bamako, the new film by Abderrahmane Sissako, the Mauritanian-born, Malian director best know for his meditative film about immigration, Waiting for Happiness.

Bamako is the capital of Mali, and this bold movie centres on an alfresco tribunal taking place in a courtyard there (apparently the very place where the director grew up). The plaintiff in this symbolic trial is Africa itself, and the judges and counsel in full legal regalia cross-examine witnesses, most of them real people, and very articulate, about imperial exploitation, neocolonialism and globalisation. The defendants are the World Bank, the IMF and their associates.

It’s a clever concept. Around the tribunal, which is semi-improvised, life goes on, as the proceedings are relayed around the town by loudspeakers to an audience, not all of them eagerly attentive. In the houses adjoining the courtyard, a marriage between a nightclub singer and her unemployed husband is breaking up and a man is dying. A photographer, who works part-time for the police, records marriages and funerals, preferring the latter as ‘more real’. Suddenly, but not arbitrarily, Sissako slips in a spaghetti western called Death in Timbuktu, starring Danny Glover and the Palestinian satirical film-maker Elia Suleiman. It’s like one of those Italian Marxist westerns that proved so popular in the Third World in the Sixties and Seventies and shows a racially mixed party of gunfighters shooting up a dusty African town. They represent the exploitation of the continent by foreigners and their local allies. This sophisticated picture about a desperate situation expresses its optimism through its style and its respect for the people who appear in it. – Philip French

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