If it wasn’t for me having watched Moolaadé a few years ago during my cubital tunnel inflammation ordeal, this would have been the first new country to add to my (somewhat neglected) world cinema challenge. However, that’s where we are with the 1001 list and Ceddo was by no means a waste of time.
These two entries by Ousmane Sembène on the list are a rare concession for a country not traditionally known for their cinema. It’s great to have them here (and honestly more concessions need to be made) because it gives access to different stories and experiences. It does mean that there is an accessibility issue when it comes to cultural givens, as many things in Ceddo go unexplained, but I learned a lot from this film.
The story takes place in Senegal several hundred years ago, in a village whose culture is under attack. The king and his court have recently converted to Islam, one member is started to introduce Christianity and people are selling their own relatives to the nearby white slave traders in exchange for guns and ammo. In order to try and preserve their way of life, some of the subjects who had yet to convert (the titular ‘ceddo’) kidnap a royal princess.
Firstly, I didn’t realize that people actually sold their own children to white people so they could get their hands on guns. Also, I had never really considered the spread of Islam into Africa via the sort of missionary tactics that Christians did. I mean it makes sense as that had to spread around the world somehow, but I’ve never seen a film that explicitly deals with the damage that spread had on the local population after it was introduced.
The story itself is really interesting and brutal, even if the use of modern jazz-style music did throw me off a bit. Did I wish that some of the scenes in the royal court took less time? Yes, because it would have meant more time for actual story (like seeing the death of a major character rather than them being killed offscreen). However, it’s a great introduction into a different world of cinema and one that makes me want to watch other Ousmane Sembène like Xala and Black Girl.