Shot in Mali, “Life on Earth” is probably the most visually stunning film in the “Collection 2000” series. It isn’t hard to see why this serious and poetic work was selected for the Directors Fortnight, despite some tiring repetitions in the second half. Its brief running time is more than sufficient for a depiction of an African village as it prepares to enter the new millennium. Specialized TV should be interested in this very original entry.
As the new year approaches, French-based Mauritanian helmer Abderrahmane Sissako goes back to a small village in Mali to see his father. In a witty transition, a gaudy Paris shopping mall is replaced by a magnificent African tree and shots of nature — a burning sun, a red desert, herds of cattle.
The filmmaker explains in voiceover his urgent desire to film his birthplace at a time when Europe grossly overestimates itself. Inspired by the poetry of Aime Cesaire, he reflects on relations between Africa and Europe in a most interesting way.
Life in the sleepy village, where people get around on bikes and donkey carts, is ably depicted as revolving around the post office, site of the only telephone in town. Over and over villagers try to get in touch with friends, with tragicomic results. As the operator, who patiently dials the number, explains, reaching people here is a question of chance. Though it makes an important point, the scene is done several times too often.
There is a delightful local radio station and six unproductive men who sit in the shade all day, listening to it. A photographer takes black-and-white snapshots with his homemade camera, which looks like something from the 19th century.
At the same time, Sissako introduces a darker note in the letter a father writes to his son in Europe, pleading for money to buy food and medicine. Money from abroad is a life-or-death matter in the bush, he writes.
Lenser Jacques Besse creates an extraordinary visual portrait made up of African colors, shapes and textures, nature and adobe walls. A fine music track, performed by various African artists with a strong traditional feel, adds further depth to the images.