While the shame and injustice of African slave trading have periodically been chronicled in American films such as “Amistad,” Ivory Coast director Roger Gnoan M’Bala offers a different perspective on the inhuman practice that lasted four centuries and left deep scars still felt today. Combining history with mythology, “Adanggaman” is dramatically naive at times, but still represents a refreshingly ambitious, imaginative film in a period of creative underachievement for African cinema. Distinguished by a stirring soundtrack of African vocal music, the technically polished drama could sidle from festivals into highly specialized theatrical situations.
Where “Adanggaman” differs most from standard dramas about the black slave trade is in its acknowledgment of the fact that Africa shared some responsibility and of the contribution of inter-tribal colonialism. Set in West Africa in the late 17th century, the film recounts a time when the despotic, insatiably greedy eponymous king (Rasmane Ouedraogo) dispatched his Amazon warriors to torch the villages of other tribes, slaughtering the old and infirm while capturing the able-bodied to be sold to European slave traders and shipped overseas.
In a village that so far has been spared the scourge of King Adanggaman’s soldiers, Ossei (Ziable Honore Goore Bi) goes against his father’s wish for him to marry the daughter of a respected family. Unable to be with the girl he loves, he flees the village shortly before the Amazons arrive to wreak destruction.
Returning to find both his father and lover killed, he sets off on the trail of the marauding warriors to free his mother, who is among the captured villagers. His main ally becomes a fierce Amazon named Naka (Mylene-Perside Boti Kouame), who herself was captured as a child and trained to kill but retains sufficient sense of the value of freedom to draw her to Ossei.
The tribulations of Ossei as he attempts in vain to save his feisty mother (Albertine N’Guessan) and then lands in chains before escaping with Naka to an uncertain future are recounted in a fable-like style never quite as fluid or cogent as it could be. But the action remains absorbing nonetheless, and the scenes in which the bloodthirsty Amazons descend on their prey are impressively choreographed.
Production values on the European-backed pic are noticeably superior to the average African feature.