Haramuya Review


AKA: The Proscription, La Proscription
Genre: Slice-of-Life/Drama/Neorealism
Year Released: 1995

Distributor: ArtMattan

Origin: Burkina Faso/France

Running Time: 85 minutes

Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+

Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Waiting for Happiness, A Taste of Cherry, Mandabi, Borrom Sarret, Dreams of Dust

-Haramuya is packaged with an unrelated film called Faraw! in the Great African Film’s volume 1 DVD set from ArtMattan. Faraw! will be reviewed separately.

Fun Facts:

-Haramuya takes place in the capital and largest city of Burkina Faso Ouagadougou [pronounced Wa-ga-doo-goo]. That city boasts over 2.2 million people and it was the former capital of the Mossi Kingdoms during that nation’s pre-colonial period. It is a Sister City to Quebec City, QC, Canada, Turin, Italy, and Taipei, Taiwan. Some people call the city “Ouaga” for short.

-This is the second and last work so far from Drissa Toure. The other film he directed was The Tradition.

-Oussou is played by Abdoulaye Komboudri. He has acted in other films such as Delwende, Samba Traore, and Ouaga Saga to name a few.

I didn’t expect to be transported back (metaphorically speaking) to Burkina Faso so soon. It comes with the territory when one wants to watch and review lots of African films. That makes it my third try with Burkinabe cinema. Unlike the first two times with Dreams of Dust and Moolaade, I actually get to watch something made by an actual Burkinabe director. Dreams of Dust was directed by a Frenchman while Moolaade was directed by a filmmaker from Senegal, so this brings a whole other change when it comes to representation for this West African nation. I happened to go into this film blind when I discovered a distributor that happened to specialize in films made either directly by those in the continent as well as the diaspora at large. I rented a DVD from Netflix and decided to challenge myself with something new to me. Okay, that is a habit of mine with multiple things I’ve reviewed, but it’s something that I believe strengthens my skills as a film critic in my tiny blog.

What am I going to do with this movie straight outta Ouagadougou? Hey, that rhymes!

Haramuya captures the lives of the people living in Burkina Faso’s capital. Even though it’s a lively, bustling, and modern city, there are conflicting ideologies and lives there. Wealth is unequal as those who are well-to-do and slumdogs are within close proximity. One family involves a deeply religious man named Fousseini who spends his days teaching the Quran to the locals. He expects his sons to get the money for the family like his eldest son Issa being a projectionist at a movie theater while the younger son Kalifa is lazy while taking odd jobs. Issa does do his best, but he’s henpecked by his wife when it comes to money. Kalifa manages to get in trouble by joining a pickpocketing gang that also doubles in drug dealing. There are also people around like the Arab businessman Malik who hires some of the locals although with questionable reasons. Other locals are involved in the story as some lives intersect across this major hub in Burkina Faso.

I knew nothing about this film, but there were a few enjoyable things about Haramuya. The neorealism aspect was a plus even though I tend to be biased towards this aesthetic. The earth tones and no-frills approach with the camera work certainly gave me a thumbs up. While not on par with Jafar Panahi or Ousmane Sembene’s works, Drissa Toure can certainly hold his own when it comes to filming. I enjoyed the narrative of showing and not telling. A movie like this could’ve been very preachy, but it was never overbearing. It shows the actions of the characters and never felt like some kind of sermon in movie form. Okay, you have Fosseini being focused on practicing Islam and teaching about the Quran, but it was a part of the character and never came off as an altar call in any way. If anything, there are subtle critiques of his devotion as he can be hardlining with not wanting TV or modern music around in his presence. The acting was nothing too crazy, but it was all very competent. I could tell most of them were non-professionals even though it comes with the territory with this kind of cinematic aesthetic. They were certainly trying and I was more impressed with them compared to so many in Hollywood. Seriously, I wonder why some of the biggest stars have long careers while amateurs outshine some of them in pure acting ability.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get into Haramuya as much as other films based in Africa. This really shows that it was made in the 90s with cars, technology, and fashion. Sure, I’ve said the same thing about Neria, but the story in itself still works regardless of its unintentional period piece elements. The music had dated production with the synth and bass tones. While there was good filming and acting, I thought this was a very aimless film. Say what you want about the Mauritanian film Waiting for Happiness, but at least I got what they were trying to do with some of the aspects of globalization as well as showing life in one of the cities. I got none of that with Haramuya. Sure, they show the poverty going on in multiple parts of the community, but I didn’t get any kind of statement. They show drug dealing, slums, and a couple scenes involving (I can’t believe I’m reusing this Trevor Noah joke again in a review that dates back to my inaugural review of Theeb) UNICEF FLIES! Seriously? I know Burkina Faso isn’t the wealthiest country in the world, but do you really want to add to African poverty porn stereotypes, especially to Westerners who (sadly) only believe the continent is nothing but mud huts, slums, war zones, or random human-free safaris? Not only that, but the interconnecting stories felt very shallow and there was barely any development. I didn’t understand the point and the connected stories were tacked on with barely any build-up or payoff. I know not everything has to be epic or loaded with suspense, but so many plot holes and storylines were dropped left and right. There was no ending and I just threw my hands up in pure confusion.

Haramuya was a disappointment of a film. There were interesting things, but I felt as though it was undercut by shallow storytelling and very dated production or presentation. I’ve seen movies that are objectively worse, but I felt let down by this aimless endeavor of a story. I’d recommend looking elsewhere.

Adjustable Point Scores:

-Add 1-2 points if you’re really into neorealism or slice-of-life movies.
-Add 1 point if you like Burkinabe cinema
-Subtract 1-2 points if you want strong interconnected stories.
-Subtract 1 point if you want pristine production.

-Good acting
-Decent camera work
-Effective in showing and not telling

-Unintentional Period Piece Syndrome
-Aimless and shallow storytelling
-Gets into poverty porn traps so hard

Final Score: 4/10 points

Content Advisory: Haramuya is good for teens and up. There’s some swearing here and there. There are worse examples of harder forms of drug usage. Not just drinking or smoking cigarettes, but there are scenes of teenagers smoking weed and something called Mudars which is presumably stronger. There are prostitute characters and one of them happens to be biracial and is called a “half-breed” as an insult. One movie in-universe has a sex scene, but it never gets pornographic or shows nudity.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Haramuya is property of ArtMattan. The screenshot is from 3B Productions and is property of ArtMattan.

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