Waiting for Happiness Review

Waiting for Happiness DVD

AKA: Heremakono, En Attendant le Bonhuer

Genre: Slice-of-Life/Neorealism/Drama
Year Released: 2002
Distributor: New Yorker Films

Origin: Mauritania/France
Running Time: 91 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG

Related Films/Series: N/A

For Fans Of: Mandabi, Wilby Wonderful, El Bola, Timbuktu, Taxi, Close-Up

Notes: N/A
Fun Facts:
-Waiting for Happiness takes place in Nouadhibou, Maritania. It’s the 2nd largest city in that county with over 118,000 people living in that coastal hub. It’s home to the terminus to that nation’s only train line and Nouadhibou is supposedly a city where people trade meteorites of all things. Sounds like every sci-fi fan’s dream!

-Three languages are spoken in this movie: Hassaniya Arabic (a dialect spoken in Northwest Africa), French, and Mandarin.

-Waiting for Happiness is the 2nd narrative film (7th overall) by Malian-Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako. Some of his other works include Bamako, Timbuktu, and Life on Earth.

-The soundtrack is handled by Malian singer/multi-instrumentalist Oumou Sangare. She has collaborated with musicians such as Seal, Herbie Hancock, Tony Allen, Ludovic Bruni, and Pink.

-Hilarious in Hindsight: Nana is actually played by someone who has the same name. Her actress is Nana Diakite.


I finally did it! I achieved one of my reviewing goals for 2020 and that was to cover films from five different African nations that have never been featured on Iridium Eye before. Let’s recap of what I reviewed this year so far which made the cut. There was the Gabonese short film Operation Nguende, Zimbabwe’s highest-grossing film Neria, the metal documentary March of the Gods which has Botswanan co-production even if it was directed by an Italian, and the Ugandan action/parody film Who Killed Captain Alex?. One could also count Camp de Thiaroye since that had Algerian and Tunisian co-productions even though I’ve reviewed works from the Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene before. What I legitimately didn’t expect was for the final film in this little goal to be from Mauritania of all places. I knew nothing about their film scene and I only know a few things about that country. I knew Arabic is one of the official languages, it’s a Muslim-majority nation, the capital is Nouakchott, it’s in Africa, and the flag has green, red, and gold in the design, but that was as far as my knowledge went. I saw that some of Abderrahmane Sissako’s work was on Netflix’s DVD service, so I thought it would be a great form way to expand my horizons taking on a movie from a country I’m not that familiar with.

Alright, Mr. Sissako. Show me what you got.



Waiting for Happiness recounts some days in the life of multiple people in the desert city of Nouadhibou. There’s Abdallah who just returned home from France after studying in that country. He tends to be alone, wearing only Western clothes as opposed to traditional garb, and he loses his fluency in Hassaniya Arabic (the most spoken language in Mauritania, by the way) although he’s quiet fluent in French. There’s an elderly electrician named Maata and his child apprentice Khatra (pronounced just like how Quatre from Gundam Wing says his name, just so you know) who are doing their best to work in that trade in the community despite not everyone always having the money for that kind of work. There’s Makan who’s from Sub-Saharan Africa who wants to take off for Europe. There are multiple other townsfolk of different ethnic groups living life in Mauritania.

Some of you who’ve read multiple reviews of mine know that I’m a sucker for neorealism as well as seeing more understated stories. The naturalistic camera work was just gorgeous. Sure, this film may not have had a high budget, but the shot composition was more than worth it. Everything felt so real like I was transported to this Saharan city and seeing the townsfolk do their own things. The long stretches of sandy roads en route to Nouadhibou, the local music, or some of the parties felt so close to me despite being thousands of miles away. The camera work was crisp, but never felt glossy or dolled up at all. There were no special effects. The closest thing was the kaleidoscope scene where Khatra and the singing girl look at it, but even then I can tell this was just put over the camera lens and wasn’t crafted in post-production. The music was certainly great with the acoustic instruments and some of the Hassaniya singing going on. Weirdly enough, one of the scenes with Makan and his friends in a photo booth had a song playing in the background that I swore was in Lingala of all languages (maybe they were Congolese this whole time?), but it still sounded great. I enjoyed Waiting For Happiness having a sense of peace around it even with some of the issues going on. It brought a sense of normalcy and a bit of wonder even in some of the most mundane scenes. The usage of subtlety was certainly intriguing with how so many of the characters are portrayed. The best usage was that of the Abdallah character. He wears European clothes that match the window curtains of his home, doesn’t like the local music, and speaks better French than Hassaniya despite being originally from Mauritania to begin with. That was a nice social commentary about people being Westernized to the point of almost abandoning their heritage in a non-preachy way. I was also surprised y how multi-ethnic that country was. The cast consists of characters who are Black, Arab, those who look mixed between those aforementioned ethnic groups, and there’s one Chinese immigrant character. Ethnicity never becomes an issue in the plot and seeing how diverse Mauritania is after looking at the demographics, Waiting for Happiness beats the Deggans Test with flying colors (no pun intended) which is an awesome thing even though this may have been unintentional on Sissako’s part, but still worth celebrating.

Waiting for Happiness did try my patience and appreciation of this film at times. Besides, Abdallah, Maata, Makan, Khatra, or Nana, I had a hard time keeping track of so many of the characters. There were some that showed up multiple times like that older woman musician and her young female student. They certainly sounded great when they played music, but I didn’t know who they were and the subplot in the third act with the girl meeting Khatra felt forced and dropped just as quickly for example. There were other plot points which were introduced and then dropped like how one woman talked about going to Europe before coming back, but it’s never brought up again later on. I can’t believe I’m going to use a Nostalgia Critic reference in this review, but that and other subplots felt like low-key neorealist cases of big lipped alligator moments (that’s a reference to All Dogs Go to Heaven for those who aren’t familiar with his videos). This film meanders from character to character with little rhyme or reason. I get that Sissako tried to do more of a “day in the life” approach with the characters which I understand, but this could’ve been handled much better. If Waiting for Happiness were done as an episodic film project like The Decalogue or like the anime series Human Crossing, I think the storytelling and character development could’ve shined even brighter for me. Most of the characters don’t even have connections with others anyway, so that format would’ve been stronger. While I’m certainly a fan of subtlety over overt messages, I have my limits as things were too obscure. It’s good to have people interpret one’s work, but I felt that there wasn’t a point in so many things. I’m not asking for a grand artistic statement about life or some serious issue, but I thought things were too low-key in it’s messaging or being too understated. This is coming from a guy who gave 10/10s to Haibane Renmei, Taxi, and Wrinkles, so you know that’s saying something from me. Man alive, I didn’t even like Seraphim Call, but at least I saw the point in the episodic structure and the final episode of that anime tied up everything in a way that made sense in that story. Waiting for Happiness could work as a slice-of-life film and I understand why some critics really like this movie, but I wished there was more consistency with the plots and characters.

This was a watchable entry into Mauritania’s cinema scene. The cinematography was gorgeous in it’s neorealism approach and it was fascinating seeing life in Saharan Africa that doesn’t rely on negative preconceptions while at the same time showing the little imperfections there. The naturalistic production was wonderful and enjoyed some of the subtlety shown with the characters. However, that subtlety was a double-edged sword as it backfired into obscurity from time to time. I also thought parts of the movie got too mundane for me. Waiting for Happiness works for fans of slice-of-life films who want something different, but I think this film did waste some of it’s potential.


Adjustable Rating System:

Add 1-2 points if you like realistic or slice-of-life movies that aren’t shallow or preachy.
Add 1-2 points if you’re a fan of Abderrahmane Sissako’s movies.
Subtract 1-4 points if you want movies with deeper meanings.

Pros:

-Beautiful neorealist visual production
-Great soundtrack
-Obliterates the Deggans Test guidelines in a believable manner

Cons:
-Gets far too subtle for it’s own good
-Subplots and character arcs are dropped for no reason
-Hard to keep track of the characters

Final Score: 6/10 points

Content Warning: Waiting for Happiness might get a medium to hard PG if this got an official rating. The only offensive things were people occasionally smoking and maybe some implied sex which is offscreen anyway (one scene involves a cop asking for a woman to “get to know him” as they walk into a tent). There are a couple of death scenes, but the bodies are there after the fact as one presumably dies of old age and another is a drowned body. Some themes will go over young viewer’s heads such as Westernization, immigrant caravans (mainly crossing the sea to Europe which is still a thing), and cultural denial with Abdallah’s character. There aren’t many objectionable things since there’s no violence, no profanity, blood, or anything erotic going on.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Waiting for Happiness is property of New Yorker Films. The DVD cover is from Amazon and is property of New Yorker Films.

7 comments

  1. Congrats on your goal for so much diverse movies. I honestly would have never suspected such a wide variety of stories. To be fair Dutch movie making oftenly is something I really can not appreciate, with an over focus on female nudity and focussing on either, horror, crime or retelling history as inaccurately as possible. There are a few exceptions but it all feels rather soap operaish to me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much, Pinkie! Yeah, even I’m surprised with how many movies from different countries are out there especially when I reviewed the Mauritanian film Waiting for Happiness. I’ve seen some Dutch movies before, and I’ve seen some of those aspects in various films from the Netherlands. Come to think of it, I think the last movie I reviewed with a Netherlands co-production in it was Ben X even though the director is Belgian. I was not a fan of it, to be honest with you. Maybe I can check out and review some Dutch movies that are pretty good in the near future.

      Like

      • I really do not like Hillywood (dutch nickname for our film area) while not for me maybe I feel so many countries have so much more real stories to tell so I wonder why ours all has to be “soft core porn glammed up history”

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve heard of Bollywood, Nollywood, and apparently Zollywood (Zimbabwean movies which I thought the term was made up until I saw and reviewed Neria), but I never heard of Hillywood as an actual term before. That’s interesting insight coming from a Dutch person talking about movies from your home country. “Soft core porn glammed up history”? Oh, wow. I’ll be sure to avoid the Dutch movies in that realm.

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      • Every movie and tv series and such is almost always shot in Hilversum Hil(versum)..hillywood as such!
        It’s funny I hate dutch movies so much but we do make “good” tv. So many shows popular across the world come from the Netherlands.
        Fear Factor, The Voice, Deal or No Deal, Big Brother just to name a few. Dating in the Dark is another one (though I am not a big fan) .. one of the few dutch movies I liked was Sint .. a dutch Horror movie about Sinterklaas (the dutch/orginalish) Santa Claus (though that has a british element as well) cheesy..but fun.

        Weird things happen in our historical movies though, like the one about the Heineken Kidnapping (the beer mogul guy) where most criminals are fused in a single character to attempt the backstabbing and after math story of it from unfolding.. or a story about Micheil De Ruyter a famous see fairing captain that has been made quite soft and pc, if our movies are to believed people were always super amazing people… or like absolute trash.. and those scenes that would have added nuance we just fill up with sex scenes or pointless nudity xD

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh! Okay. I was wondering why the name was called Hillywood. Thanks for the information. I certainly learn new things every day. That’s cool about Dutch TV shows. I think I knew that about Big Brother, but I wasn’t aware of that with the other shows. Nice! Then again America does adapt a ton of shows from other countries like American Idol (Pop Idol in England) or recently The Good Doctor which was a Korean show. Thanks for the recommendation. Any other good Dutch shows or movies?

        I see. That does sound really weird with that story and how it was adapted. Yeah, pointless sex and nudity can be such a turn off and I’ve made comments about that with some of the things I reviewed.

        Liked by 1 person

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