Is a religion worth the life of a man?

There are a decent number of ‘one hit wonders’ on the list; films that are the sole representative of their country to make it on. Whether that speaks for the film or the country or against it is up to each viewer to decide for themselves. One of these one-film countries is Senegal, a nation on the western shore of northern Africa, and the list film from Senegal is Ceddo, directed by one of the only African directors whose name I vaguely recognize, Ousmane Sembene. Ceddo is an interesting film, not only because it’s a film from what is regarded as an undeveloped country. It has a lot to say, even outside the film’s plot, and I regarded it very highly as a result.

The Ceddo of the title are the unprivileged, the poor common folk of the country villages, who are in constant pressure and persecution by the royal government, which has officially converted to Islam, and wants all its subjects, including the Ceddo, to convert as well. Opposing this forced culture, they kidnap the king’s daughter, and the film recounts the battle of words between the two factions, as well as the attempts of several suitors and heirs to the throne of rescuing the daughter. First off, if the idea that a film from an undeveloped country like Senegal could make it to the world stage, as well as the list, is surprising to you, well, prepare to be surprised some more. The film looks very professional, helped along by what appeared to be good equipment and a great sense of cinematography, as well as a very broad and colorful palette. Another thing I was impressed with was the score, which seemed very modern, and not at all antiquated like the music of the Apu films or Ritwik Ghatak. I believe I even heard the presence of a synthesizer in one of the religious scenes in the middle of the film, an instrument solidly of the 80s culture, and while very much dated today, was still that much more surprising for a 70s film. There’s a lot here that works, as well as some things that don’t work quite as well; principally, the script, or specifically the dialogue. It might have just been culture that shaped the dialogue into what it was, but it seemed really blunt, and especially royal; almost Shakespearean, with what would have amounted to a lot of ‘thou’s and ‘thy’s with how the people in the film addressed the higher-ups of the ruling council, the king, and the imam. By the way, not to stir any religious or anti-religious fervor or anything, but the imam (the representative of the king’s counsel for the laws and rights of Islam) was one of the most hateful and divisive characters I’ve seen from a film in a long while; all he did was fuel hatred and spin words to get his way, all in the name of religion, which personally pisses me off to no end, as I’m sure it does several others who may end up reading this blog, so heads up on his character.

I was impressed by this film, even if the story and method of telling it were rather simplified. Not only did it look that of a professional film, it even had the depth of one, daring to ask questions such as whether a religious doctrine should rule over a man’s life over man’s judgment, and having the breadth of political and caste interactions, such as intrigue and deception, and even plots of rebellion. I liked this for many reasons, chiefly that it did not hide it all under metaphor and subtext like a developed nation’s film would have done; it was all out in the open, and it was, in my opinion, far braver for doing so. Anyone can sneakily speak of dissension or contrary opinion under the guise of metaphor or humorous intent; to say the same outright and to the face of the governing ideals of the populace takes gumption, and it is gumption that is sorely missing in our developed world, solely due to the fear of retribution. I could go on with this discussion, but to do so would be inviting a little too much political or ideological debate to my blog, but Ceddo is a film that warranted at least a mention of what it does that so few developed films have the bravery to do. I don’t know if it is this quality that makes this a must see, but I’d certainly be willing to build and posit such an argument; Ceddo is a film that deserves it.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10


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