×

Film Review: ‘Nafi’s Father’

A young woman In a provincial town in Senegal is caught in a fight between her father, a religious leader, and his fundamentalist brother.

Director:
Mamadou Dia
With:
Alassane Sy, Saïkou Lo, Aïcha Talla

Power dynamics wrapped in religious intolerance drives a wedge between two brothers in Mamadou Dia’s engrossing feature debut, “Nafi’s Father.” While presenting two competing visions of Islam, the film plainly shows fundamentalism as an aberrant strain foreign to Senegal, wielded as a means of control rather than a genuine belief system; even though the Islamist topic is hardly under the radar of late, Dia grants his characters warmth and humor in their struggles and makes the story feel fresh without compromising on drama. Not enough sub-Saharan films make it to festivals let alone art-house cinemas, but the strength of “Nafi’s Father,” plus two Locarno wins, including the Golden Leopard in the Cinema of the Present section, should boost its chances considerably.

In a small town in the northeast of Senegal, the local Tierno (Alassane Sy, “Mediterranea”), a religious leader qualified to be an Imam, practices a centuries-old homegrown version of Islam that adheres to Koranic scripture but also incorporates certain traditional animist practices. His older brother, Ousmane (Saïkou Lo, “The Pirogue”), on the other hand, has fallen in with a fundamentalist sheikh from outside the region and is throwing money around to draw more people into his circle. When he announces one day that his son, Tokara (Alassane Ndoye), will marry the Tierno’s daughter, Nafi (Aïcha Talla), the religious leader is taken aback, arguing that his daughter is too young; the real reason of course is he doesn’t want Nafi to fall into his brother’s orbit.

Were he to listen to Nafi herself, he’d discover that she actually wants to marry her cousin, a gentle young man with a passion for dancing. Nafi, an only child, is a strong-willed teen — no younger than her mother, Rakia (Penda Sy), when she married — who dreams of going to college in Dakar. A union with Tokara would enable them both to go to the city and lead less constrained lives than what they have at home, though that’s hardly how Ousmane sees it. The root of the brothers’ tension has nothing to do with their kids, but rather with sibling rivalry and lingering bitterness over issues of parental favoritism when they were children; the difference is that the Tierno has a kind though rigid nature, whereas Ousmane is greedy for power and uses religion to punish and control. Their battle of wills, involving the whole town but specifically impacting their children, will have tragic implications.

There’s an unexpected strain of melancholy that suffuses “Nafi’s Father,” notwithstanding frequent grace notes of humor. The Tierno is conceived as a figure of Shakespearean proportions, wielding authority with a gentle hand yet caught in a rigidity that makes him blind to what’s happening in his own home. Though representing an ages-old form of Islam that, for example, makes the hijab optional, he remains a traditionalist, which is why Nafi tells only her mother about her university application. The Tierno’s Koranic knowledge doesn’t include a course in psychology or self-analysis, and his battle of wills with Ousmane for the soul of the town (much like a Western) is genuine in its concern for the happiness of his flock but also blind to the deep personal roots of the conflict.

The script could use some tightening, and even more noticeable is the need for greater flow in line delivery, which tends to allow for too much empty space between conversational dialogue. Dia and producer Maba Ba met while attending NYU’s Tisch School, and they’ve put together a crew consisting of fellow alumni Sheldon Chau as DP and Alan Wu as editor. Visually, the film is marked by handsome compositions and a sensitivity to color and shadow, always connected to furthering a sense of location and character rather than as an exoticized locale designed for Westerners.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Nafi's Father'

Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (Cinema of the Present), Aug. 14, 2019. Running time: 109 MIN. (Original title: “Baamum Nafi”)

Production: (Senegal) A JoyeDidi, Okapi Intl. production. Producers: Maba Ba, Mohamed Julien Ndao. Executive producers: Yacine Ndiaye, Soundiata Abass Ba.

Crew: Director, writer: Mamadou Dia. Camera (color): Sheldon Chau. Editor: Alan Wu. Music: Baaba Maal, Gavin Brivik.

With: Alassane Sy, Saïkou Lo, Aïcha Talla, Penda Sy, Mamadou Bayo Sarr, Alassane Ndoye, Omar Fall, Iba Guisse. (Fulah-Pulaar dialogue)

More Film

  • Film Republic Adds Further Sales for

    Film Republic Inks Further Deals for 'God of the Piano' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sales agent Film Republic has closed further territory sales on “God of the Piano.” Film Movement previously picked up North American rights to the film, as reported exclusively by Variety. Mont Blanc Cinema has taken the rights for Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. Limelight Distribution is looking after the Australian and New Zealand releases, Hualu [...]

  • ‘Bears Famous Invasion’s Lorenzo Mattotti Brings

    Lorenzo Mattotti on MIA Title ‘Bears Famous Invasion of Sicily’

    Illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti is no stranger to film festivals. The artist – a long-time New Yorker cover artist and onetime Lou Reed and Michelangelo Antonioni collaborator – has designed posters for past editions of Venice and Cannes, and has contributed to films that played in Toronto and Rome. This year, however, he experienced the festival [...]

  • Dreamworks Abominable

    'Abominable' Release in Malaysia Abandoned

    Plans to release the increasingly controversial Chinese-U.S. co-produced animation film “Abominable” in Malaysia have been dropped after the distributor said that it would not be cut to cater to political sensitivities. The film includes a scene which depicts a map showing the South China Sea and the so called “nine-dash line” that China uses to [...]

  • Hui He

    RAI Com Takes World Sales on Italy/China Doc About Star Soprano Hui He (EXCLUSIVE)

    Italy’s RAI Com has taken world sales on high-profile documentary “Hui He, the Soprano From the Silk Road,” which is about the personal and artistic journey of one of the world’s leading sopranos and also marks a milestone Italian-Chinese co-production. Hui He was born and trained as a singer in the Chinese city of Xi’an, [...]

  • Bruce Springsteen arrives for the New

    Bruce Springsteen Returns to NJ Hometown for Surprise 'Western Stars' Introduction

    Bruce Springsteen returned to his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey to offer a surprise introduction to the first public multiplex viewing of his concert/documentary film, “Western Stars.” Dressed simply in a brown jacket, Springsteen took a moment to say a few words at the AMC Freehold 14 movie theater on Saturday night. “We knew we [...]

  • Backstage in Puglia del film SPACCAPIETRE:

    'Gomorrah' Star Salvatore Esposito Set For De Serio Twins' 'The Stonebreaker'

    Salvatore Esposito, the Italian star who plays young mob boss Genny Savastano in Italy’s hit TV series “Gomorrah,” will soon be hitting the big screen toplining upcoming drama “The Stonebreaker” by twin directorial duo Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio, who are known internationally for “Seven Acts of Mercy.” The De Serio twins are now in post on “Stonebreaker” [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Tops 'Joker,' 'Zombieland'

    “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is on track to give Disney another first place finish after scoring $12.5 million in Friday’s domestic ticket sales. If estimates hold, the Angelina Jolie-led film should finish the weekend with about $38 million — well below earlier forecasts but enough to top holdover “Joker” and fellow newcomer “Zombieland: Double Tap.” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content