The psychological snarls that result from years of genocidal civil war are impressively dramatized and crafted into a shocking parable in Fanta Regina Nacro’s tyro feature, “The Night of Truth.” Further evidence of the strong film community supported in Burkina Faso, pic reps one of the better cases in recent African cinema of a writer-director with chops (Nacro has 17 shorts and docus to her credit) using a cast to flesh out roles that are unabashedly Shakespearean. Prestige fest appearances could auger some international sales, with West African playdates set for December.
The smoke has cleared, but acrid bitterness hangs in the air after a years-long war between the governing Nayak and rebel Bonande tribes in an unnamed African nation. Nacro establishes early on a panoply of emotional states, from the brewing vengefulness of Edna (Naky Sy Savane), wife of Le President (Adama Ouedraougo), whose son was viciously killed during an especially grisly rampage, to Nayak supporter Tomoto (Rasmane Ouedraogo), who is this drama’s Fool and loose cannon.
Wedged between these extremes and seeking reconciliation are Le President himself, his seemingly reasonable Bonande counterpart Colonel Theo (Commandant Moussa Cisse) and his wife Soumari (Georgette Pare), whose belief in peace seems naive, given the history of atrocities each side has visited on the other.
In classic fashion that follows the art of playwriting, Nacro carefully establishes each major character and their case, then brings them together for a peace-and-reconciliation dinner party.
The confab is itself a great act of faith, since when the pic finally reveals glimpses of the horrific bloodshed of the war — the landscape is scattered with body parts — it seems a miracle the two sides would be able to speak to each other. It’s indeed too good to be true, and the dread of this reality hangs over each moment of the party like a slowly dropping guillotine blade.
Tension is almost unbearable, and the notion of casting such complex and intense roles with non-pros would seem to be folly. Ouedraougo, Cisse, Savane and Pare may be new to the camera (all of the pic’s men are actually members of the Burkina Faso army), but they pour a wealth of passionate conviction into people torn between love and hate. The ghosts of characters from “Othello,” “Richard III,” “Hamlet” and “Antony and Cleopatra” hover about, to pic’s benefit.
The physical sharpness of this Francophone production shouldn’t detract from the fact that, pricey technical tools notwithstanding, Nacro has a fine eye for intimate drama and for finding the universal in the particular. Her final shot, over closing credits, of a classroom of kids, post war, brilliantly concludes things on a positive note.