LES SAIGNANTES REVIEW
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.”
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 Moolaadé), as well as Desire Ecare’s Faces of Women.
I’d give Les Saignantes 2 stars out of a possible 5.