AKA: The Wagoner, Le Charretier
Year Released: 1963
Distributor: The Criterion Collection
Running Time: 18 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Black Girl, The Accordion, Untying the Knot, Dreams of Dust, Taxi (Jafar Panahi film), Drift
-I used the New Yorker Films DVD to review this short film. It was part of a double feature alongside Black Girl in that DVD. The Criterion Collection re-release features a remastered version of this short film as an extra.
-Borom Sarret is the first ever film from director Ousmane Sembene which would make it the first short film ever created by an African in the history of cinema.
-The dialogue is mainly in French, but the songs in the background are in the Wolof language which is the most spoken tongue in Senegal.
It was certainly a blessing checking out Ousmane Sembene’s works for the first time ever since I watched Black Girl. That was a hard-hitting classic film that most people haven’t heard of with it’s usage of unadulterated realism with subtle metaphors on colonizing and covert racism against Africans in the world. Fortunately, the copy of Black Girl I rented featured his first work as a film director. Since the aforementioned film was just less than an hour long, I figured that eighteen more minutes wouldn’t hurt in front of my computer screen and DVD/Blu-Ray player in tow to check out his earlier work.
Is this another masterpiece from the Father of African Cinema? Let’s see if it’s worthy of such a title from this filmmaker/author.
Borom Sarret is about a cart driver in Dakar who’s doing his best to support his family in a post-independence Senegal. The driver takes passengers all across the city, but he’s having trouble making some coin for his particular job. It’s not just because of the large influx of cars rolling around, but it’s because he’s not stern enough for how much money he should get for his services. Many of his passengers notice this and take advantage of him all around Dakar as he’s wheeling people around with his cart and donkey in tow.
This was certainly an intriguing premise for a short film. I was reminded a bit of Jafar Panahi’s opus Taxi, but the plot is certainly different and it doesn’t have that docufiction feel. However, it’s a situation that I still find to be quite believable in 1960s Senegal. That country had only been independent from French rule for only three years at the time it was filmed which the content not only would’ve been timely back then, but the ramifications are still felt now there and multiple nations across the continent. There was an expectation that there would be instant wealth to go around, but those areas were still poor and that’s saying nothing how France still has a foothold in their economy with the West African Franc as I mentioned in my Black Girl review. It’s further emphasized in the scene where a local cop takes the driver’s military medal right away. It’s strongly implied that he served in the French army some time ago, but even his service wasn’t good enough to rise above being treated like crap. I guess it’s not much different how African-American soldiers were swindled out of the same benefits that their Caucasian counterparts got when they came home after both World Wars for example (saying nothing how some were lynched in uniform when they got home). It’s the nature of being disposable people by the former colonizer in subtle and overt ways. The realist cinematography may not impress younger viewers, but it’s gritty enough to drive the point home for how the situation at hand is. The acting was great with the wagoner and the people he meets how it all felt natural and realistic with how they would interact. Those were good things about this short film.
Borom Sarret does deal with a bumpy road of sorts. This was made in the early 60s which really shows in how old the movie is. The film is shot well despite the limited budget, but I know it could turn off those who need everything to be colorful and up to date like it was Kansas City (pardon the Oklahoma! reference). While poverty does play a key element in this film, I did think that it got overdone and the contrast became very obvious once he tried to get that wealthy passenger to the French quarter of Dakar. It’s certainly a very nice area, but it’s most likely because of the resorts built there. The wagoner character is sympathetic, but even I would’ve stood my ground and forced people to pay up if they were riding on my cart. A bunch of those plot elements could’ve been avoided satire or not.
This short film from Ousmane Sembene wasn’t as good as Black Girl, but it was still totally worth watching. The satirical aspect certainly worked more often than not. The realistic camera work was great for the concept and overall aesthetics of the plot. However, aged cinematic elements and some plot choices I didn’t agree with did hamper my score some. Borom Sarret was certainly a good debut from this overlooked director and I will certainly do my best to find more of his filmography to review for Iridium Eye.
Adjustable Rating System:
Add 1-2 points if you like Ousmane Sembene’s films.
Add 1 point if you like cinematic realism.
Subtract 1-2 points if you want your movies to look new and in HD
-Well-crafted usage of realism
-Nice Senegalese acoustic soundtrack
-Borders on poverty porn
-Some plot aspects got less than favorable
Final Score: 7/10 points
Content Warning: Borom Sarret would probably get a PG rating. The harshest thing that’s shown is a passenger who has to carry his stillborn child to a graveyard which is quite dark, but everything else is tame. However, younger viewers may not fully grasp the concept of poverty or colonization.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Borom Sarret is property of Ousmane Sembene and The Criterion Collection. The screenshot is from Medium and is property of The Criterion Collection.