Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora



I really wanted to like Les Saignantes, the Cameroonian feature film by Jean-Pierre Bekolo (his 3rd effort), if only to acknowledge and commend a filmmaker for what must have been a challenging feat in simply making a film in a country where the production of film is still in its infancy, relative to celluloid factories like North America, Europe, Asia, and even Nigeria, Cameroon’s next door neighbor.

I really wanted to like Les Saignantes for the risks the filmmaker took with the entire production of the film – risks that helped contribute to a kind of film that I could only describe as ethereal.

I really wanted to like Les Saignantes, but, alas, I didn’t!

“I should have seen it with women instead of seeing it with you,” said the young lady I saw the film with, jovially but still with a matter-of-fact delivery.

Humored, I asked her to clarify, but had some inkling of what she meant.

“Because… it’s a film with feminist leanings… and women probably would appreciate it more than men.”

Feminist leanings?

On the contrary, as I told her, I thought it actually countered feminist doctrine.

The film is about 2 high-class prostitutes (they call themselves "Les Saignantes," or "The Bloodletters") in the year 2025, who use their sexuality to gain access to some of the highest ranking political officials in Cameroon, supposedly with the intent to rid the country of those corrupt men who have run Cameroon for decades, creating a rather dystopian society.

The idea presented, at least my interpretation of it, exalts the power of the “P,” and I’m sure I don’t have to clue anyone in as to what the “P” is. Essentially, the message we’re to garner from the film is that a woman’s sexuality is such a powerful thing that it can actually topple governments.

Now you’re probably thinking to yourselves, “well, it’s true Tambay – the power of the “P” is a genuine phenomenon!” :o)

And I wouldn’t entirely disagree with that. BUT just don’t tell me it’s an ideology that’s inline with feminist doctrine, because it's as anti-feminist a notion as I can think of. I’m not well-versed about all things feminist, but I’m confident in saying that a woman’s use of her body to break the will of men and achieve success in whatever she is pursuing, is counter to feminist teachings that champion the woman’s use of her intellect, rather than her body, to realize some end goal, helping to negate a culture of inbred widespread objectification of women!

So, no – I wouldn’t call this a film for feminists. I wouldn’t even say that it portrays women in the most idealistic frame – far from it! Sure, maybe you and “the girls” will have a good time laughing at the various sexual adventures the two protagonists get themselves tangled up in, usually at the expense of men, but to what end? You may as well wander down the aisle of the “black cinema section” at your local Blockbuster Video rental store and take your pick of any of the trollops on display!

HOWEVER, of course, one cannot completely appreciate a film by passively consuming it, and only looking at its surface, especially a film from a filmmaker known for political satire.

So, what is Les Saignantes REALLY about, underneath all the gratuitous T&A packaging?

It’s a criticism of the rampant corruption in Cameroon, from the top to the bottom of the pyramid, and the idea that women will be the sex that saves and revives the country from its depression – a theme that’s common in a lot of African cinema, notably films by the late Ousmane Sembene and Desire Ecare, 2 of the more internationally recognizable African filmmakers, and both male.

Women are often the protagonists, portrayed as progressive, as well as the higher moral and intellectual authority. Men are frequently framed in rather unattractive portrayals – often as corrupt, sexist, stubborn or simpletons… not very complex at all. Essentially, the films believe in the idea that woman is the future of man, as the idiom goes.

Les Saignantes seems to want to continue this trend, but the resulting delivery is worse than anything Sembene or Ecare ever did, or would ever do! There’s no comparison here. It plays like a notch or two above your archetypal Nollywood film, right down to the shoddy technical work, sub par acting, and an overall tackiness to it all!

It’s billed as a sci-fi film, but there’s very little sci-fi content, other than the fact that it takes place in 2025.

“Shouldn’t we give this film a pass, or at least NOT look at it with the same lens that we watch American films with their mega-budgets and pyrotechnics?” she asked.

I certainly didn’t walk into the theatre expecting a technically sound, high-production-valued film. Although even as I sit here thinking about my previous sentence, I wonder if there’s something condescending about that statement, because I feel like I should go into any film expecting the best from the filmmaker, especially a filmmaker like Jean-Pierre Bekolo, who has already made 2 features, with Les Saignantes being his 3rd, all with international festival play, as well as awards, and a filmmaker who received film school training and who also taught film at 3 American universities. If anything, I think expecting more from this film and the filmmaker is complementary, given his professional history. So, I believe that I actually would be insulting the man by agreeing to give his film a pass simply because he’s Cameroonian, and the film was produced entirely in Cameroon, on a minuscule budget, with local talent.

I’ve seen his first film, Quartier Mozart, and it’s a far better effort than Les Saignantes is. Besides, thinking globally, maybe it’s time that we (Africans from all across the Diaspora, all corners of the world) should stop giving ourselves “passes” just for effort, and start expecting a lot more out of each other!

“You must have liked SOMETHING about it!” she proclaimed, emphatically.

As I started out saying, I commend the filmmaker for taking some risks with the production – mostly stylistic. Some worked; others failed. But I always appreciate any artist fearless enough to charge down new paths, even if the end result isn’t desirable. So, Bekolo certainly should be given a round of applause for the effort. The entire film takes place at night, within smoky, foggy locales, dark side streets, and dimly-lit interiors, combined with a soundtrack comprised of an eclectic musical mix – what I would describe as an amalgamation of dancehall and makossa, but all uniquely African. All of this helped create an ethereal quality to the film that I liked, and still remember. It’s just too bad that the cumulative experience left me rather indifferent to it all.

“I think I’ll see it again, but with women next time, since you’re such a killjoy and obviously don’t see the true meaning of the film.” She said finally, before we moved on to other topics.

Ok, you do that! :o)

For those interested in better African films with similar messages, do yourself a favor and check out all of Ousmane Sembene’s films (from Black Girl to MoolaadĂ©), as well as Desire Ecare’s Faces of Women.

I’d give Les Saignantes 2 stars out of a possible 5.


  1. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...

    Hmm... Sounds like Nollywood on celluloid, as opposed to video, which kind of puts me off the film already - and I had quite high hopes.

    I won't go into what's wrong with Nollywood as, despite all it's faults, it has some positives too and I'm happy that it at least exists and am certain (and mostly hopeful) that it'll get better with time.

    As to giving a film a pass just because... I'd need to see the film myself, but I don't see why someone with the credentials you've mentioned this fimmaker has should be given a pass if he's made a film that's not up to par...

    Sounds to me like a bit of fun for the girls (and um, yeah... I like all my feminist rhetoric/propaganda delivered via prostitutes) but not exactly a film buff's film, then.

    And as to "P" power... That kind of depends on the power of the brain in control of the "P." Sadly, too many women lose control of their brains when they start believing that the "P" is the control centre... Then again, I'm sure Alexyss Tyler could expound better on this theory.


  2. The Obenson Report said...

    What I failed to mention is that it actually is a digital video film, not celluloid, which didn't help matters much.

    I think it's a film made for Cameroonians - or at least those not as far removed from the country and its varied cultures as I am. I'm guessing it probably would play very well in front of a Cameroonian audience... I think.

    I'm aware of Cameroon's current social, economical and political state, but not as much as someone in Cameroon right now would be. So there might be some aspects of the film that I simply didn't recognize and appreciate.

    I also didn't mention that I read an article stating that the film was banned in Cameroon by the president (Paul Biya) for fear of what it might influence and encourage amongst those who saw it. But this was in 2006 (the film is 3 years old) and I don't know if the ban was lifted, or if it has screened in Cameroon since then. I think its ban may have actually helped its chances at international festivals.

  3. Invisible Woman said...

    Wow, that's too bad.

    At least the movie poster is hot!

  4. shirley said...

    "I think I’ll see it again, but with women next time, since you’re such a killjoy and obviously don’t see the true meaning of the film.” She said finally, before we moved on to other topics."

    Errrr, nice story here...creative license or verbal vandalism? Maybe, I should come by this here blog more often!

    Allow me to defend myself, as the "young lady" with whom you saw this film and also to defend this courageous albeit flawed film before you deter others from even considering it. What I actually told you was that I did like that the film dealt with some subjects hardly ever explored in African cinema. And it did so with such brazen disregard for conventional narrative & continuity.

    But to compare the film's attempt at scathing political critique to Nollywood's melodramas is lazzzzyyy. Aside from the obvious production value, you're comparing apples and oranges.

    Bekolo attempts and sometimes succeeds in quite unapologetically making a progressive, campy, satirical, and at-times hilarious african film meant for an african audience. Quite a major feat since the truth is that most of our favorite (and the world's favorite) african filmmakers can't really ever avoid that internalized eurocentric gaze thing coming across in their work.

    I mean, how can a film that so blatantly tackles taboos like the practice of mevengu, a Cameroonian secret society ritual surrounding women's sexual and societal power hardly be reduced to a trite summary like T&A? Bekolo's point wasn't to exploit what you cutely refer as to "P-power" but to call attention (quite alternatively so) to a situation that does exist.

    There ARE women like these "prostitutes" out there. These rituals do happen metaphorically and literally. What Bekolo did was make examples of the two brilliantly, bad-assly played, not to mention HOT female leads by elevating them to practically superhuman archetypes. Yet they were not without their faults- and thank goodness for that. They were flawed and therefore multidimensional as they rid Cameroon of its bloodsucking political elite one by one by one.

    To a much, much lesser degree it's something akin to maybe The Adventures of SuperNegro or even to the blaxploitation heroines of the socially turbulent 70's (to give you a pale African American reference point.) Bekolo managed to create African female superheroines unedited, subversive, and unafraid to be both grosteque and sublime.

    That is what I thought was feminist about it. In that way it IS like Decaré's Faces of Women on acid maybe!

    And yes, the irony of it all doesn't go unnoticed here- more brown women directors need to paint their own superheros. I think where the film does fall short is in its lack of focus. It tried to represent too many things at once. Yes, manic it is.

    I see that even the film's meant-to-be cheeky title was equally lost on you. Les Saignantes actually translates to The Bloodettes not The Bloodletters. Sheesh!

    Wendy, you should so see it!

  5. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...

    Hi Shirley. If it does come this way (if it hasn't already and I've missed it) then I may just give it a look.

    However, I must say that Tambay's Nollywood comparison (we kind of have a similar take on Nollywood and I'm sure you're familiar with his take), in addition to your own assertion that it has "brazen disregard for conventional narrative" (not always a bad thing, mind you) "...& continuity" and "fall[s] short is in its lack of focus" is not really endearing the film to me...

    It would be interesting to hear the view of someone else from Cameroun, or anywhere else in Africa for that matter. I've found that there's a tendency among Africans (both within Africa and throughout the wider diaspora) to either love or hate most Nollywood-type films - and for those who aren't great fans, production values usually aren't the main/only issue.

    To those who don't like Nollywood films or anything that could be compared to them, it's a bit like an African-American who hates films like Soul Plane and it's ilk. I've never seen Soul Plane (and probably never will, based on the clips and pics that I have seen of it) but, while it may make some African-Americans cringe, I'm sure it does have it's fans and I'm sure there's someone out there who can make a defensible argument for it.

    Oh well, the reviews on IMDB, both good and bad, seem to pick up the same pros and cons mentioned by both you and Tambay (though the one negative comment was so particularly scathing that it made Tambay's review seem like a Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's sofa moment). I guess I'll just have to make up my own mind if/when I get the chance!

  6. The Obenson Report said...

    Thanks for finally posting a comment there Shirley :o)

    The "Bloodettes" or the "Bloodletters" - is there really a difference in meaning, cheeky or not, given the context of the story?

    Also, if you look at it closely, your review actually isn't that much more encouraging than mine is... really!

    So, what I posted is my story and I'm sticking to it. And I'm sure other readers won't necessarily be completely dissuaded from seeing the film based solely on my review, 'cause my readers are smart, independent thinkers buddy :o)

    And yes, you should come by my blog more often dude. As I'm sure lots of other readers will agree, it's a cool place to hang out, even though some are content with lurking...

  7. Qadree said...

    A bad review has never stopped me from seeing a movie, I'm going to see this as soon as I can.

    Good or bad, I'm glad you made us all aware that this film exists because I had never heard of it.

  8. shirley said...

    What I missed before!:
    “Shouldn’t we give this film a pass, or at least NOT look at it with the same lens that we watch American films with their mega-budgets and pyrotechnics?” she asked.

    No crime writing a bad review. Just try asking for my actual opinion instead of just conjuring up fake and not to mention lame quotes to make a self- aggrandizing point. Shame on you buster! Then again, some folks are content with just sticking to their um, stories.

    Hey Wendy, Les Saignantes in no way resembles Nollywood melodramas or moral tales which I think are great in there own way. Think along the lines of Sweet Sweetback as far as subject matter, plot...stylized characters. Of course similarly, some folks dismissed that film as little more than T&A but one would be blind to overlook its message and the timelessness of its unlikely hero.

    Btw, Tambay in case you missed that part too, 'Faces of Women on acid' was a compliment. Sigh.

    And okay you win...I'll come by here more often. But I already feel used and abused on your interwebs my dear. I'm like some misquoted/ slandered celebrity. My oh my Mr. Tambapaparazzi!

  9. UK Black Chick aka Wendy said...

    @ Shirley: Confession... Never seen Sweet Sweetback but, from what I've read about it, it's most redeeming feature is that it broke convention by portraying black people as not just criminals, pimps and hos. Um... though exaggerated black (particularly male) sexuality seems writ large all over it (diffusing the message of sticking it to the man with a bit of a Mandingo sub plot to boot).

    I'm kind of getting The Spook Who Sat by the Door meets Sweet Sweetback but with kick-ass chicks and a slight Nollywood feel to it.

    I'm probably as much a fan of Blaxploitation as I am of Nollywood. Like Nollywood, Blaxploitation has it's place and has served a purpose, and I'm pretty glad they both came about, but I feel like we need to move on from the novelty of 'black people on TV (or movie screen)!' syndrome.

    That means no passes just because...

    So if you really want me to see the movie, say not another word about it becuase neither you nor Tambay have increased it's appeal since he first posted about what seemed like an interesting departure from the norm. I'm feeling like I can wait till it comes out on TV but who knows if/when that'll ever happen.

    Still, I'll try to remain objective if and when I do get to see it.

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