Tasuma Review

Tasuma poster

AKA: Le Feu, The Fire, Tasuma: The Fighter

Genre: Drama/Comedy/Slice-of-life
Year Released: 2004
Distributor: ArtMattan
Origin: Burkina Faso

Running Time: 85 minutes

Rating/Recommended Audience: 15+

Related Films/Series: Tasuma 2
For Fans Of: Haramuya, Mandabi, Land and Shade, Borrom Sarret

-Tasuma is part of ArtMattan’s Great African Films Volume 2 DVD set alongside another Burkinabe film Sia, but both films are unrelated.
Fun Facts:
-Tasuma uses two languages for dialogue: French and Dioula. The latter language has official status not just in Burkina Faso (alongside French, Moore, and Fula), but also Cote D’Ivoire and Mali. There are over 6.8 million people who know it as their first language.

-This film was directed by Kollo Daniel Sanou. Tasuma is his 5th fictional film and 13th overall if you count Sanou’s stints as a documentary filmmaker and animator. Some of of his other works involve Nyama, Siao 1991, and the TV show Taxi Brousse.

-Hilarious in Hindsight/Director Bonus: Hold up! The main character Sogo and the director have the same last name! Is this some kind of self-insert in-joke of sorts?

-Sogo is portrayed by Mamadou Zerbo. He was also an actor for Siraba and Le Poids du Serment.

-Part of the film takes place in Bobo-Dioulasso, or just Bobo for short. It’s Burkina Faso’s 2nd largest city after capital Ouagadougou and has over half a million people living there. This city was also mentioned in Dreams of Dust which some of you know as the first Burkinabe, let alone African film I reviewed in Iridium Eye’s early days. Some famous people associated with the city are musician Chiekh Lo, filmmaker Gaston Kabore, and current Lyon soccer player Bertrand Traore.

Looks like I’ve been going back to Burkina Faso more often than I anticipated this year. I seem to have underestimated that country in terms of how many movies have come out of that West African nation. Even the late great Ousmane Sembene’s final film Moolaade has a co-production as well as being filmed there. My experiences in Burkinabe cinema had ups and downs. Dreams of Dust was worth watching, but I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece. Then there was Haramuya which I found to be below average. I wanted to give ArtMattan a chance since I’ve been getting into African movies a lot more and they specialized in cinema from the continent let alone the diaspora at large. The aforementioned Haramuya was mediocre and Faraw! was something I really didn’t like. I wasn’t going to swear off that distributor because I want to do my best to be open-minded to see more of the movies from the continent.

ArtMattan and the cinema scene of Burkina Faso, you still have my attention.

Tasuma is about a retired veteran named Sogo Sanou. He lives in a rocky high-altitude village in the Burkinabe countryside with his family. Despite serving for the French Army during Word War II as well as the Indochina War (context: Burkina Faso was under French colonization at those times) for over a decade, he has yet to get his rightfully owed pension. He goes to Bobo-Dioulasso to receive said pension as well as the other veterans who served in the same army. On that day, the computer systems weren’t working, so none of them could get the money in the city. Sogo is frustrated, but at the same time he wants to use the money to help the village by purchasing a mill because his neighbors and family only have millstones to work on the grain, millet, and other crops which is very inefficient. He strikes a deal with an Arab businessman named Samir Khalil who offers to build the mill with his people as long as he gets paid from part of Sogo’s pension the next day. The mill is a success in the village, but on the day after, Sogo couldn’t access his pension which makes him beyond irate. Since he signed a contract with Mr. Khalil, he risks imprisonment for not holding up his end of the bargain as well as the mill going bye-bye in the village. How will this veteran handle the stress of not getting his rightfully owed and overdue money as well as letting his family and neighbors down?

You know this isn’t the first time I’ve covered a movie involving Africans serving in the French army, but this is certainly the polar opposite from Camp de Thiaroye. Instead of this tragic film that uses a real life atrocity done to the African soldiers as a plot point, this is a dramedy taking place decades after WWII with an aged former soldier. While he certainly survived two wars, much like the soldiers stationed in Thiaroye, Senegal, he was still screwed over when it comes to financial compensation. I’m not sure if Burkinabe humor is supposed to be low-key, but I still enjoyed it. There was a really funny moment with the running gag with the grenade which has a hilarious, yet morbid payoff near the end of the film. Sogo was supposed to get the pension two years prior to the events of this film and that was sadly a real life element for the African veterans who were from the Francophone parts of the continent fighting for another country while their Caucasian counterparts from said country got well-compensated with their pensions as well as getting higher amounts. This element is present, but it’s presented in passing instead of being preachy about it. Sogo was an intriguing character. He’s normally calm and jovial around the villagers or people he knows, but he has a scary temper when angry. Sogo even tells off cops and current soldiers who try to tell him what to do by using force as well as talking about his military service like he’s Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski. The title of the film refers to his nickname (Dioula for “Fire”) with his anger as well as him being fierce in battle. I really liked the presentation of the village. While there are some disagreements between some of the people, they legitimately care about Sogo and vice versa. That unity and respect really comes to ahead in the third act when Sogo gets imprisoned. They go all the way from their town to Bobo to try and free the aging veteran. While Sogo has his own issues with his personality, he does legitimately care about everyone in his village even though things didn’t go his way due to the pension issue. That gave him sympathetic qualities even with his flaws. The traditional soundtrack was good and I was almost tempted to put the term “musical” in the genre list since there were multiple times where the characters sing about what’s going on. This almost had as much singing as Singh is Kinng and I’ve seen Disney animated works with less songs sung. It was certainly different from similar movies, but it was a good kind of different for this film. I also enjoyed how no one is presented as a bad guy. You have characters doing their jobs and could be a bit antagonistic, but they still felt like real people. That was a great touch for Tasuma.

Now, Tasuma does have some of that creative fire, but sometimes that fire is more resembling something from Dylan’s rapping. Yes, reader. I just used a Chappelle’s Show reference in a review. Anyway, I wasn’t impressed with the cinematography. I can tolerate low-budget movies if it’s done in a neorealistic context or if it’s part of the joke, but how is it that Tasuma looks just like the Zimbabwean film Neria even though the latter came out over a decade earlier? Not everything has to be pristine, but I think the camera work should’ve been crisper in the visual presentation department. While there were good musical choices (especially the vocal ones), some of the background score felt cheap with the sound design. Tasuma does have some pacing issues mainly in the middle. While I thought it was a good choice to not deal with the prison elements until the final act instead of right in the middle, there were still moments that meandered and some of Sogo’s attempts to get his money felt repetitive and cliche with the typical bureaucracy red tape moments (“No, we can’t help you.”, “You need the right ID”, “You can speak with the supervisor/higher-up/boss.”, etc.). Some subplots went nowhere like Oumou being offered as a second wife for Sogo. I get that it was to show respect to Sogo and it’s in a country where polygamy is more accepted, but that felt tacked on. Although in the director’s defense, he did make the right shipping choice for Oumou by not going that route and it was a heartwarming scene, but they could’ve went through without that plot point earlier in the film.

Is Tasuma the most groundbreaking film ever? No, but it was certainly an improvement over the last two ArtMattan films I watched and reviewed. Tasuma has the right balance of deadpan comedy and drama that was done in such a believable way. It had the potential to be imbalanced or didactic, but it avoids many of those pitfalls by handling the matter in a realistic way. The story was competent and things do improve the most in the final act. I wished the rest of the film would tighten up on the pacing and improve the camera shot composition though. If you want a heartwarming story with the right mix of serious moments and some laughs, then Tasuma fits the bill.

Adjustable Point Scores:
-Add 1-2 points if you like dramedy movies.
-Add 1 point if you like African cinema.
-Subtract 1-3 points if you really want good cinematography.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you like your humor to be over-the-top and wacky.

-Good characters and realistic presentation
-Nice vocal tracks
-Strong 3rd act of the film

-Cinema work feels really cheap
-Pacing issues in the middle
-Some subplots felt tacked-on

Final Score: 7/10 points

Content Advisory: Most of the film might get a PG-13, but I might have to reserve Tasuma for those in their mid-teens and up. There’s some violence with gun play and a joke involving a grenade that does explode. Not to get into any spoilers, but there are no human deaths in this movie. There’s one case of female nudity in passing. I think the biggest issue would be the language. Sogo’s catchphrase is “Holy f***ing s***”, which he says multiple times throughout the film. There’s talk about polygamy, but that doesn’t happen in the film.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos and videos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Tasuma is property of ArtMattan. The poster is from Filmaffinity and is property of ArtMattan.

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