Mandabi is clearly a movie for specialized tastes and is probably of more interest as an example of an emerging African film industry than as a film in its own right. The story of a man whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of a money order from his nephew in Paris is old hat — and was even in 1968. There are moments of interest — like the truth of the ramshackle life of this supposedly rich nephew, and the idea of the recently indepenent Senegal mired in its approximation of a bureaucracy learned from the French. But the film is choppy and inelegant. Director Ousmane Sembene shoots it all in a flat style that depersonalizes the characters and keeps them at a distance. Though it may be the transfer I watched, the film looks like it was blown up from 16mm. The images are often indistinct. The editing is ragged. And the whole film is crude — even amateurish. As an example of the formation of African cinema, I don’t doubt its importance, but I’m not sure it has a lot to offer otherwise.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Mandabi Friday, Dec. 5, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com