The success of “Karmen Gei” could crack a few doors open for “Madame Brouette,” another breezy, music-filled Senegalese tale of independent women and narrow-minded men. Not quite as stylish or exhilarating as that current international release, veteran local helmer Moussa Sene Absa’s latest effort nonetheless is enjoyably groomed for offshore arthouse exposure as an escapist comedy-drama ballasted by a dose of lite feminism.
Given the titular nickname (“Mme. Wheelbarrow”) because she survives by wheeling wares on the streets of Dakar, Mati (Rokhaya Niang) is a proud single mother who’s had enough of men.
Her example proves persuasive to best friend Ndaxte (Kadiatou Sy), who finally walks out on the loutish husband who beats her regularly — even if that means leaving her children behind as well, at least for the time being. She shacks up with Mati, latter’s rather bratty child Ndeye (Ndeye Seneba Seck), and grandparents who see no contradiction between taking their daughter’s money and grousing about her “scandalous” status as a divorcee.
Mati may not trust men anymore, but that doesn’t mean she’ll pass up a little romantic diversion, especially when it comes from the handsome and insistent likes of neighborhood cop Naago (Aboubacar Sadikh Ba). He’s a ne’er-do-well — in corrupt cahoots with local black marketeers and in debt to boot — but for a while his attentions are welcome. They cool, however, once Mati finds she’s pregnant, a situation made worse once she and Ndeye are thrown out by the prudish grandparents.
Naago sets them up in a flophouse hotel; this kind of “help,” combined with his unabated promiscuity, fast convinces Mati she must once again take charge of her own welfare. She and Ndaxte successfully smuggle goods across the border, using their profits to set up a beachfront cantina.
That enterprise goes well until Naago, reluctantly accepted back into the fold, lets dubious underworld associates turn the place into a magnet for drug dealers and fistfights. Paying customers soon drift away. One holiday night, Naago gets roaring drunk, missing his own son’s birth, then returns the next day to threaten them all with a handgun. In the ensuing tussle, he’s shot dead.
Denouement is known from the outset, as helmer recurrently (and somewhat clumsily) flash-forwards to the crime’s aftermath, with local media drooling over the lurid domestic incident and Mali’s neighborhood women rallying to her public defense.
Uncomplicated script makes its points without sermonizing, illustrating the struggles — legal and otherwise — most Senegalese endure while the government makes empty promises of economic improvement. Principal message, however, fingers the unreconstructed misogyny that allows women to be treated as male property.
Insinuating Afropop score is abetted by an onscreen vocal quintet who weave in and out of action, sometimes narrating, sometimes just commenting on everyday life. Lensing by Jean-Jacques Bouhon is unremarkable, but does take advantage of the hothouse color schemes in Moustapha Ndiaye’s production design and Fatou Kande Senghor’s costumes.