TIFF 2023 | Banel & Adama (Ramata-Toulaye Sy, France/Senegal/Mali) — Centerpiece

By Madeleine Wall

The only directorial debut to make it into this year’s official Cannes competition, Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s Banel & Adama is a clash of love and tradition in rural Senegal. At 18, Banel (Khady Mane) was widowed from Adama’s (Mamadou Diallo) brother, and as per tradition, he married her in his sibling’s place. This turns out to be a gift of fate, for the love the two have for each other is like nothing anyone in their village has seen. But when they decide to leave the village life for a future together, just the two of them, Adama has to also abandon his inherited role as chieftain, much to the chagrin of his mother. 

Initially, Sy’s film seems to offer a clash between tradition and progress: we see that Banel is a woman who refuses to sit properly, is adept with her slingshot, and generally acts like an outsider in her own community. The dramatic stakes are suddenly raised by a mysterious drought that refuses to end. As men leave the village and their cattle die, religious traditions become the only form of comfort, and Adama’s confidence in Banel wanes in the wake of the crisis. Is it the breaking of his blood lineage that has brought on this calamity?

Juxtaposing the vibrant colours of the evening with the washed out taupes of drought, Sy’s bold camerawork brings out the magic in the landscape, and the awesome power of the weather. Banel does all she can to be with the man she loves, despite the oppressive weight of their shared heritage and the obstacles presented by the elements themselves. While it would be worth putting Banel  & Adma in conversation with Safi Faye’s Mossane, in which another young Senegalese woman must carve her own path in the wake of tradition, Sy’s blend of feminist critique and supernatural eco-fable feature announces a bold, original talent..

mwall@cinema-scope.com Wall Madeleine