Guimba the Tyrant (Cheick Oumar Sissoko)

Rating: **1/2 (out of ****)

My memory of this film is kinda vague, to be perfectly frank. I saw it about eight months ago (as I write this in June 1996), at last year's New York Film Festival, and I didn't bother writing a review because I felt certain that it would never see a commercial release. I'm glad to be proven wrong, but at the same time I didn't enjoy it enough to want to spend eight dollars to see it again, so I'm relying on fairly dusty recollections, and you'll have to bear with me. Made in Mali, but set in a fictional village sometime in the distant past, Guimba is a bawdy, rowdy, often very funny tale of political tyranny; if that sounds a bit oxymoronic, well, that's African cinema in a nutshell (he said confidently, having seen all of about four African movies to date). The story concerns a brutal dictator (the eponymous Guimba) who breaks the camel's back with a straw in the form of his vertically-challenged son, who wishes to marry a woman who is rather inconveniently married to someone else. Guimba orders a divorce, sends the terrified husband packing, and all hell breaks loose. While certainly engaging, and often striking to look at (the sets and costumes are spectacular), the film somehow seemed a bit inert, and I never quite became emotionally involved, beyond a vague knee-jerk desire to see justice prevail. Guimba himself, in particular, was not nearly as powerful and threatening a presence as I felt he ought to have been; the actor playing the role, as I recall, was just sorta...there. I also seem to remember occasional periods of tedium, during which I found myself waiting impatiently for something to happen. But that's about all that I can report, I'm afraid. It's been too long. Sorry.