If you’re a fan of Bill Moyers and Joseph
Campbell’s PBS series "The Power of Myth," you’ll love
the new film from Burkina Faso opening at BAMcinematek for a
one-week run, "Sia: The Dream of the Python" (2001),
directed by Dani Kouyate.
Kouyate’s universal film is staged in a town dominated by a tyrannical king whose advisors encourage him to make a ritual human sacrifice to a mystical snake god to bring back prosperity. Sia (Fatoumata Diawara, pictured), a beautiful, noble, virgin girl from the village, has been designated to be sacrificed, but she’s engaged to be married to brave soldier Mamadi (Ibrahim Baba Cisse).
Sotigui Kouyate (the filmmaker’s father), plays the role of Wakhane, head of the king’s army. Wakhane is Mamadi’s uncle and uses his position to recall his nephew from the frontlines so he can say his goodbyes to Sia before the python gets to her. Mamadi, of course, has no intention of letting her die - even if it is for the good of the town.
Sia has a mind of her own, too, and attempts to flee from her fate. While she’s in hiding, the townspeople become divided between their loyalties to church, state and family - especially when the king’s soldiers attempt to beat Sia’s hiding place out of them.
It soon becomes clear that the town madman, Kerfa (the superb Hamdoun Kassogue), is one of the few who’s making sense in the anguished town.
More of a bloody Grimm’s fairytale than one of Aesop’s dreamy fables, Kouyate’s film skewers religion and politics, and has a surprise ending akin to the shock in Neil Jordan’s "The Crying Game." Though some of the acting falls a bit short, like the king’s advisor, Balla (Habib Dembele), who comes across as cartoonish as Jabba the Hut’s bumbling jester Salacious Crumb in "Return of the Jedi," the script, acting, costumes and on-location filming combine to make a lush, engrossing - and subsequently haunting - film.
In Bambara with English subtitles, "Sia" will be screened at BAMcinematek [30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place, (718) 636-4100] from May 24 to May 30 at 4:30, 6:50 and 9:10 pm. Dani Kouyate will be present for a Q&A following the 6:50 pm screenings on May 26, 27 and 28.