Modernity is greeted with fear and trepidation, while the traditional is exquisitely captured in contempo African fable “Faro — Goddess of the Waters.” Pic reps an impressive feature bow by Malian docu and short filmmaker, Salif Traore, and from the opening frame the helmer’s command of filmmaking is masterly. Radiating authenticity and authority, this effort is assured wide fest exposure. Commercial prospects also beckon with arthouse niche in Europe, with the possibility of following in the extensive footsteps of Ousmane Sembene’s “Moolaade.”
The camera traverses the surface of the river near the Malian town of Sekoro, all of which comprises the domain of Faro, the titular water deity whose significance is all-encompassing.
Soon after trained engineer Zan (Fili Traore) returns to the village of his birth, the bush telegraph announces the bastard son of Niele (Rokia Traore) has returned. In a place where the progeny of unmarried women are seen as a curse, this is not good news.
While Zan is in town, he implores his mother to reveal the identity of his father. Bound by some unexpressed secret, she refuses.
Also breeding ill will in the village is the outspoken Kouta (Helene M. Diarra), whose refusal to endlessly grieve her husband’s death in the time-honored way has upset the township. While the same obligation does not weigh upon her beautiful daughter Penda (Djeneba Kone), the young woman still acutely feels the loss of her father.
After Penda nearly drowns in a river accident, the village is traumatized by what is taken to be a sign that Faro is angry. Village consensus is that the return of the technology-wielding Zan (video cameras, SUV, surveillance equipment) is the wellspring of the goddess’ rage.
Village chief (Sotigui Kouyate) and his all-male council declare Faro’s wrath will not dissipate until a sacrifice is made. All villagers are forbidden from entering the river until further notice — a considerable obstacle to everyday life.
Pic gives equal weight to traditional and modern values. In the opening credits and the scenes in which the river takes life rather than gives it, Faro is presented as a living entity rather than a mere superstition. Likewise, when a ritual is enacted to determine who has fathered illegitimate children, the procedure is not only perceived by Zan and the rest of his community as truth, but is later revealed to be unfailingly accurate.
In its embrace of the old and the new, Traore’s vision is tolerant, wise and forward-looking. From the very beginning, pic exudes a cinematic confidence that assures aud it is in good hands, and while some aspects of the narrative may be unconventional for Westerners, Traore never betrays that trust.
Thesps, some of whom are amateurs, are strong across the board. Fili Traore gives an excellent portrayal of a man caught between his head and his heart, his past and his future.
HD lensing shot at 24 frames per second is a colorful joy to behold and, in a fest landscape dominated by shoddy digital images, reps a rare example of how bright the future of digital cinematography really will be.
Jean-Pierre Gauthier makes full use of the earthy textures of the African landscape and delivers several memorable vistas and magnificent closeups with equal aplomb. African soundtrack by Bassekou Kouyate is smartly applied. All other tech credits are decidedly pro.