A tale of life in an African village

May 29, 1991

Yaaba
Written and directed by Idrissa Ouedraogo
With Fatimata Sanga, Noufou Ouedraogo and Roukietou
Academy Twin Cinema, Paddington
Reviewed by Norm Dixon

Director Idrissa Ouedraogo invites the viewer to become part of the daily life of a small village in remote Burkina Faso. From the opening scenes, you are drenched with the yellow-brown colors of the parched, dusty but beautiful sub-Sahel landscape. Against the backdrop of this remote and barren scenery and the simple thatched huts of the tiny village complex, human interrelationships unfold.

Twelve-year-olds Bila, a crafty young larrikin, and his cousin Nopoko befriend Sana, an ancient, toothless and persecuted woman who has been cast out from the village, accused of being a witch. All the misfortunes of the village are blamed on Sana. Bila and Nopoko at first accept these stories but soon discover that Sana is simply a convenient scapegoat for unpredictable events.

Despite the disapproval of many in the village, Bila defends Sana against the slurs. He visits her and brings her food, and they talk for hours. Sana becomes Bila's "Yaaba" — grandmother — and she is deeply touched. Through Yaaba, Bila learns much about life. When Nopoko contracts tetanus after a fight with some children, it is Yaaba's experience and knowledge and Bila's determination to ignore the villagers' prejudices that save her life.

When we return to the village with Bila and Nopoko each night, we are able to experience its vibrant, chaotic and complicated relationships. There is the hopeless but amiable drunk, whose sensible observations are dismissed because of his alcoholism. His wife, who lambastes him for his impotence, has an affair with a con man who feigns blindness for handouts.

Another woman, who accuses Bila of being a lout, is oblivious to the antics of her own horrible children, who make Bila seem an angel by comparison. There is gossip, bickering, love, playfulness and music.

Yaaba is a simply filmed but finely crafted tribute to the marvellously complex lives of ordinary people.

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