Sia, The Dream of the Python Review


AKA: Sia, Le Reve du Python
Genre: Fantasy/Drama
Year Released: 2001
Distributor: ArtMattan
Origin: Burkina Faso
Running Time: 95 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 15+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Yeelen, Maasai, Game of Thrones, Keita!
Notes:
-Sia was a part of the Great African Films Volume 2 set from ArtMattan with Tasuma, but they are unrelated films despite both being made in the same country.

-Warning! One of the plot twists will be discussed in this review. Reader discretion advised!
Fun Facts:
-Sia takes place in the ancient Wagadu Kingdom. That African kingdom consists of parts of modern day Mauritania and Mali.

-The title character is played by Malian-Ivorian actress/singer Fatoumata Diawara. Some of her other cinematic work involves playing characters in La Genese, Timbuktu, and Taafe Fanga. As far as her music career is concerned, she has released three full-length albums and one EP. Diawara has also collaborated with musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Dobet Gnahore, Disclosure, and very recently lent her vocals to the newest Gorillaz album.

-This was directed by filmmaker/griot Dani Kouyate. He’s from Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso and has also directed Keita!, Soleils, and Ouaga-Saga.

-The language used in Sia is Bambara. It has 15 million speakers and it has official status in Mali (notice how the setting takes place in part of that country). Outside of Mali, there are people who know the language who are from The Gambia, Cote, D’Ivoire, Liberia, and Senegal to name a few. This is the 2nd movie I’ve reviewed that uses Bambara after watching Yeelen.

-Sia is actually based on an ancient African tale that was adapted into a play prior to this film being created.

Once again, Burkina Faso gets another entry into Iridium Eye! I remember reading a quote about how big the cinema scene is in that West African nation close to the time I reviewed Dreams of Dust, but I certainly underestimated how many movies have been made by Burkinabe filmmakers. To put this in perspective, after I post this review, I would’ve covered more Burkinabe movies than films made in countries such as Australia, Austria, New Zealand, Colombia, Spain, Brazil, and India to name a few. Burkina Faso, you’ve pleasantly surprised me in that regard. I wonder how they stack up in movie choices compared to Nollywood for example. Besides going back to this nation’s movie scene, I get to cover another African fantasy work, so this is going to be intriguing. For real, Africa is SO under-represented much less misrepresented in that genre, let’s be honest here.

Will this be a quality fantasy work hailing from an ancient kingdom most people haven’t been taught about in several schools in the West? Let’s find out.

Sia, The Dream of the Python takes place in the 7th century in the village of Koumbi in the Wagadu Kingdom. This kingdom is ruled by the emperor Kaya Maghan who is involved in a brutal religion that worships the Python God. He has his own regiment of priests who sacrifice a virgin woman in order to bring order to the land. The priests have chosen Sia Yatabene to be their next sacrifice for the reptilian deity. Sia is the daughter of nobility and she runs away from the emperor’s guards. She hides in the humble abode of Kerfa who is the village’s madman and ardent rebel against the emperor due to his hatred of the theocratic despotic regime. However, Kaya Maghan offers eighteen kilos worth of gold for anyone who finds Sia. Not only that, but he sends his general Wakhane after her. Despite his loyalty to the royal family, he’s conflicted because his nephew Mamadi is her fiancee. Mamadi certainly doesn’t want Sia to be sacrificed either, so he does everything in his power to save her. How will this situation play out with the Python God’s priests and revolution simmering among the commoners.

This was an intriguing entry into African fantasy. I liked how grounded it was. While there’s the mystic murder cult aspect of the world, the movie still feels believable, so one could definitely make an argument that Sia, The Dream of the Python would qualify as a realistic fantasy work. There was plenty of political intrigue going on with the royalty and some of the commoners who play active roles in the story. Kerfa was definitely an atypical character with his extremely eccentric behavior as well as openly defying the emperor with a big grin on his face. Kaya Maghan could’ve been some irate iron-fisted tyrant, but he plays everything so cool in his brutality by working with the Python God priests and to make sure the public obeys him through his military force. Wakhane was certainly a complex character. I thought he was going to be some overly loyal and legalistic soldier villain, but he was more than meets the eye especially given his relationship with his nephew which eventually leads to a bit of a face turn for him as he wants Mamadi to destroy the Python God, so he could be a hero as well as the new leader. HOLD UP! An uncle wants the royal to be overthrown and ISN’T considered the bad guy for even suggesting to do so? I have never seen this narrative done before in a story before and I don’t need to name any obvious contrasts to that kind of writing. This was a nice twist among other plot twists that happen especially during the final act. The music was also good. It was a nice mix between traditional African melodies with some incidental epic music spots that were surprisingly tasteful during the more dangerous parts of the story. I enjoyed the authenticity of the set design and portrayal of 7th century West Africa since it really shows that the filmmakers certainly did their homework with everything. The elements of politics and religion playing out is still relevant to this day. How many times do you hear about theocratic dictatorships or at the very least stories of politicians doing bad things to civilians? Despite the time difference, those aspects have a sense of reality and parallels to even recent events.

Sia, The Dream of the Python does slither away from being a masterpiece. The visuals are certainly fine, but it does feel aged and had some lighting issues in multiple scenes. I noticed that there were some subtitle errors with some of the dialogue. ArtMattan seems to enjoy hardsubbing their DVDs from what I’ve seen and it looks like they’re done by the same company who did other movies I’ve reviewed such as Yeelen or Mandabi to name a few. Sometimes the subtitles look invisible like if it’s a bright scene or the colors on the bottom look too similar to the font hues. While there were great twists and turns that avert cliches, I do feel there were underdeveloped aspects to the story. Keletigui feels like a blank slate who’s loyal to Wakhane and some of the general’s motivations would’ve been better if he had a full face turn instead of having some selfish moments for wanting his nephew to be the new emperor. There’s obviously the twist of what the real Python God was and how heinous the priests were, but the morality does waver in the general’s case. Sia, the title character feels like a supporting role in her own story. More things should’ve been done to make her stand out and to have greater agency. Personally, she had more personality in the final act and it’s a shame of what happened to give her a character change. If the movie didn’t have her name in it, I might not have minded as much, but Sia should’ve had far more screen time to leave a bigger impact for this film to be greater in my opinion.

This Burkinabe fantasy work was a good watch although not a fantastic one. The plot is surprisingly relevant and timeless despite coming out back in 2001. There’s intriguing anti-cliches and plot twists which give the film more interest. However, some characters were better portrayed than others. Sia, the Dream of the Python was certainly intriguing, but a few parts of the story did reduce the quality of the story for me.

Adjustable Point Scores:
-Add 1-2 points if you like African fantasy works.
-Add 1 point if you like political intrigue in your dramas and fantasy stories.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you want top-notch storytelling.

Pros:
-Good soundtrack
-Atypical plot twists
-Great acting

Cons:
-Subtitle errors
-Sia is an underdeveloped character in her own story
-Lighting issues

Final Score: 7/10 points

Content Advisory: Sia, The Dream of the Python would be better for older audiences. There is one F-bomb dropped in Bambara for one piece of dialogue. There are multiple deaths that happen especially during the final third of the movie. The violence does get bloody as there’s warfare and torture going on in addition to the plot point of human sacrifice. One character actually gets raped and tortured, but not everything is shown. There’s also disturbing parts of the movie like Kerfa eating a roasted cat kabob (I’m not making this up) or human skeletal remains where the Python God is, but I’m avoiding spoilers about the latter. Also, there is female nudity that happens during the ending.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Sia, The Dream of the Python is property of ArtMattan. The poster is from Cineplex and is property of ArtMattan.

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