AKA: Faraw! Mother of the Dunes, Faraw! Une Mere Des Sables
Year Released: 1997
Running Time: 88 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG-13
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Felicite, The Breadwinner, Inshallah Dimanche, Neria
-Faraw! Is part of the Great African Films series volume 1 with Haramuya, but it is an unrelated film.
-The main language used in Faraw! is actually Songhai. It’s a group of languages that range across Mali, Burkina Fao, Niger, and Benin. Despite not being an official language in Mali, it’s used as a lingua franca especially with the Songhai ethnic group who make up 6% of the population in that country. Yes, the language and ethnic groups are associated with the ancient dynasty of the same name in Africa.
-Faraw! is the debut full-length film and fifth film overall from Abdoulaye Ascofare. He’s a filmmaker and poet from Gao. His other works consist of Welcome, L’Hote, and Sonatam. Ascofare got his film studies degree in Moscow before going to Bamako.
-The husband in this film was played by the late Balla Moussa Keita. He was also in the movies George Washington (also his final role), Waati, and in Yeelen which I already reviewed.
-Faraw! Is based on two stories by Aliou N’Doye: “The Violin” and “A Day”.
Looks like I’m back in Mali again at Iridium Eye Central. My first experience with that country’s cinema scene was when I covered the Afro-Fantasy movie Yeelen from last year. While it had it’s flaws, I did find it amazing that there would be a fantasy story taking place in pre-medieval Mali. Now, I’ve been exposed to this distributor called ArtMattan and how they cover so many African movies in their catalog. I saw a bundled DVD set with the Burkinabe film Haramuya, but I wasn’t too impressed with that movie. Then came the 2nd part of that bundle when I rented it from Netflix and I hoped this would be an improvement over that film.
Will this Malian movie be a jewel in the desert? Okay, I know the Sahara touches Mali, but I meant that metaphorically.
Faraw! is about a family in a Northeastern Malian town right in the desert. There’s a wife and mother of three named Zamiatou who’s been drowning in debt with running things at the merchant’s tab, looking for work, and there’s a major recession going on in the nation. She has a daughter in her late teens named Hareyrata and two young sons named Alhadar and Seyhada. Her husband was wrongfully incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit and after getting out of prison, he is in an invalid state where he’s incommunicado besides fits of laughter and physically frail. Zamiatou has to figure out a way to support her family as she becomes the de facto breadwinner in the family.
There were a few things I liked about Faraw. The soundtrack consisted of traditional acoustic Malian instrumentation which worked well in different scenes. They weren’t distracting and there were long stretches of silence in the background which gave it a naturalistic feel to it. That reminded me of Ousmane Sembene’s choice of music in the films I’ve seen of his so far. The camera work is just fine with the realistic setting of Saharan Mali. While I wouldn’t call it full-on neorealism, it was quite serviceable. There was a sense of experimentation during that dream/flashback sequence Zamiatou has in the final act where the screen becomes fuchsia and she has a caravan of people around her. That element of surrealism did come out of nowhere, but it made sense with the story as well as provide insight to the character even if it was in a weird way. It was also interesting seeing how Zamiatou would be able to support her family. Granted, she doesn’t become some millionaire, but I did appreciate how it showed a believable way for her to start a business (spoilers avoided) in the community. The acting was pretty good and there were moments of drama and intensity that did work in the context of the movie. Most of them were non-professional actors which was a plus. The movie didn’t overstay it’s welcome as it told a complete story in just under an hour and a half.
With all of the positive things I said about Faraw!, I still found this movie to be quite problematic. The husband is such a non-character as he’s just there to be fed, clothed, and taken care of by the rest of the family. You never see him before the arrest and he’s more of a plot device than a character. He’s also the only one who’s played by a professional actor which makes the casting even crazier in hindsight. There were some lighting issues during the night scenes where it was really hard to tell what was going on at times. In the DVD I rented, I could tell the film wasn’t remastered well as I saw tracking issues as well as a black bar on the left side of the screen with a sliver of what should be on the far right of the screen to the left of said bar. This got distracting even though I knew what was going on with the 97% correct aspects of the screen.
My biggest problem with this movie is the Zamiatou character herself. I don’t care about her being some “strong independent woman” who becomes an entrepreneur that provides a legit service in the area. I found her to be loathsome as a protagonist. She is so hypocritical and abusive, yet gets away with her behavior and actions which infuriated me. The portrayal of this character undercuts the movie’s message and misconstrues the strong female character themes. Before anyone decides to flame away at the comments section to accuse me of being sexist or misogynistic, let me ask you some questions involving some of her actions in this movie and imagine if a man did the same thing…
-Would a man get away with emotionally abusing their kids by calling them useless or nitwits?
-Would a man get away with name-calling and accusing their child for being lazy even though they did EXACTLY what they asked them to do so and told the truth?
-Would a man get away with telling their children not to do something and literally do the same thing within minutes in front of said children?
-Would a man get away with strangling their daughter and beat her with a tin basin big enough to use as a makeshift bathtub for a couple of babies or some pets?
-Would a man get away with talking to another woman and openly admitting that they wished other woman would’ve been their wife despite ALREADY being married?
-Would a man get away with being accused of stealing someone else’s girl?
You know dang good and well a man doing those things would have DCFS and the cops on them like white on rice. I found Zamiatou to be on my short list of unintentionally disturbing female protagonists alongside Luisa from Y Tu Mama Tambien and Constance from Redwall (granted, for completely different reasons respectively). When there was that scene of her strangling and beating her own daughter in front of the prospective French employer, I shook in pure disgust seeing that. I also hate how Hareyrata is the Malian Meg Griffin as the family just has a field day degrading and abusing her. Sure, she beats her younger brothers for teasing her, but where did she learn THAT from, Zamiatou? I utterly despise how Zamiatou gets away with everything with beating her children and being a straight up hypocrite with being tempted with another man (that was an ex-lover, I might add) as well as telling her daughter not to do certain things while she does the same thing on site. Not going to lie, I’ve been in previous job situations with a couple of female supervisors and those with seniority over me who were bullies in their jobs, but never got punished. When I made a mistake or did the same thing as them to someone else, then I was treated like the devil. I hate these double standards and I can’t stand how there is a certain audience who gives carte blanche for female characters or even real life women to act abusive and imposing their will on others, but will put men to the stake if they did the same actions. Look, not every female protagonist has to be Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell, but I’m asking people to not load up heroines with protagonist centered morality while excusing every bad thing they do just because they don’t have a Y chromosome. If you want to see positive examples of strong female characters for the right reasons, then I would check out Neria, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, Felicite, or even The Breadwinner. If you think it’s okay for Zamiatou to act the way she did and be “forgiven” by starting that business when a man wouldn’t get the same treatment, then that says more about you than it does about me. Nobody should be abusing others!
Faraw! is a seriously flawed movie that undercuts it’s own morals and messages. There was a good realistic feel and I liked some of the experimental things as well as the music. Besides that, I had so much contempt with Zamiatou as her character is detestable as well as her story arc was completely unearned. It sickens me how an abusive woman like that could EVER be considered as a protagonist who gets away with doing villainous things all the time. That was a gigantic dealbreaker for me because it plays up a real life pet peeve of people never taking responsibility for their actions or words let alone getting away with their wrongdoings. This is a blight in African cinema and deserves to be buried in the Saharan dunes.
Adjustable Point Scores:
-Add 1-3 points if you like stories of female entrepreneurs.
-Add 1-2 points if you like African movies.
-Subtract 1 point if you can’t stand female characters who get a free ride all the time despite being bullies.
-Good camera work
-The dream scene was creative
-Nice soundtrack and sound design
-The husband is a plot device and not a character
-Lighting issues in the night scenes
-Zamiatou suffers from SEVERE protagonist centered morality
Final Score: 2/10 points
Content Advisory: Faraw! would be fine for teens and up. There’s a couple of swear words here and there, but that’s not a major issue. Zamiatou feels totally fine strangling and beating her own daughter with zero consequences. There’s some mature content with poverty playing a part of the plot and how Zamiatou has a history of being promiscuous in her past although it’s never shown. The depiction of the husband’s mental and physical state can be quite disturbing as he becomes a shell of his former self who needs his wife and children to take care of him even for basic things. Some of the French business owners use some innuendo and say some sleazy things. What really doesn’t help is that there’s implied prostitution offers from one of the business owners.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Faraw! is property of ArtMattan. The movie poster is from Film Affinity and is property of ArtMattan. The screenshot is from ArtMattan and is property of ArtMattan.