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A tale of polygamy and infidelity among Bamako’s educated bourgeoisie that illustrates the sexual double standard extant for men and women, “Tell Me Who You Are” marks the sixth feature from veteran Malilan writer-helmer Souleymane Cisse (“Brightness”), whose last pic was 1995’s “Waati.” Visually undistinguished, this overlong, repetitive social problem drama is more akin to a TV soap opera than Cisse’s previous work. While it may resonate with domestic audiences, it’s likely to disappoint offshore fans. Nevertheless, given the current dearth of sub-Saharan African filmmaking, the pic should make the rounds of fests and specialty venues.

Central character is sharp-tongued coquette Mimi (Sokona Gakou), 52, whose filmmaker hubby Issa (Assane Kouyate) has another, younger spouse. Fed up with being in a polygamous marriage, Mimi is having an affair with Abba (Alou Sissoko), a fish merchant with two wives of his own.

Although imperiously independent Mimi claims to bring her country billions of dollars in aid each year through her job at a national development agency, it’s unclear when she actually works; her entire screen time is spent scheming, lying or complaining about her personal relationships.

As one character notes, “African marriages are not that simple.” For men to have multiple wives and mistresses is accepted practice. However, even polygamous husbands can’t accept their wives having sexual relations with another man.

When Issa questions Mimi about Abba, she decides to make his life miserable. After she tries to divorce him, he counters by charging her and Abba with adultery. Given Mimi’s shrewish, overbearing personality, it’s a mystery why either man wants her.

With none of the three main characters particularly sympathetic, their exasperating stream of charges, countercharges and insults soon turns tiresome. Eventually, the pic’s chief sources of interest become the brightly colored, wildly patterned kaftans and kerchiefs of the women, their gaudily decorated villas, and the beguiling soundtrack of Afropop.

TV journalist Gakou provides such a physically imposing screen presence as Mimi that neither mild-appearing Kouyate nor Sissoko seem man enough for her. DV lensing by a multitude of cameramen is mostly too dark and lacks crispness.

Tell Me Who You Are

Mali-France

  • Production: A Les Films Cisse (Mali)/Canal Plus Horizons (France) production. (International sales: Les Films Cisse, Bamako, Mali.) Produced, directed, written by Souleymane Cisse.
  • Crew: Camera (color, DV-to-35mm) Fabien La Motte, Xavier Arias, Thomas Robin, Amaury Agier Aurel, Yousouf Cisse; editors, Andree Davanture, Youssouf Cisse, Barbara Bossuet, Marie Estelle Dieterle; music, David Reyes; art director, Bakary Ouattara; costume designer, Sokona Gakou; sound (Dolby), Idrissa Joseph Traore. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Special Screenings), May 21, 2009. Running time: 135 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Sokona Gakou, Assane Kouyate, Badra Alou Sissoko. (Bambara dialogue)
  • Music By: