- The Poetics of Radical Hope in Abderrahmane Sissako's Film Experience by Olivier-Jean Tchouaffe
BY OLIVIER-JEAN TCHOUAFFE
Lexington Books, 2017.
vii + 153 pp. ISBN 9781498539814 cloth.</AA.
Abderrahmane Sissako has emerged as one of Africa's foremost filmmakers over the last twenty years. His body of work is deeply personal, introspective, and engages with the contemporary world. In fact, one of the distinguishing features of Sissako's cinematic productivity is his positioning of Africa in the world, at the center of the major trends and issues that define the contemporary world. Consequently, his filmography has Africa speaking to and at times on behalf of the wider world. It is an extrinsically oriented approach that has inaugurated a new era in the history of African filmmaking. Olivier-Jean Tchouaffe has produced one of the first systematic treatments of Sissako's filmography and has consequently made a notable contribution to the scholarship of African cinema as well as the history of African filmmaking. Moreover, Tchouaffe uses Sissako's films to explore the idea of the "camera-eye," which Tchouaffe defines as a "combination of techniques" that are "predicated on the continuity between technology, the eye and the sensible as [a] condition of possibilities and manifestation" (5). Tchouaffe argues that Sissako's cinematic technique is designed to "keep African's (sic) history fluid and relevant through the production of new possibilities." (13) Consequently, Sissako is an exemplary figure through which to explore the concept of the camera-eye.
After establishing the conceptual framework of the book, Tchouaffe turns to an exploration of Sissako's seminal films, including Life of Earth, Heremakono, Bamako, and finally Timbuktu. Tchouaffe draws on recent analyses and scholarship of Sissako's films and at times engages with some of the film reviews. In each, Tchouaffe seeks to illustrate the working of the camera-eye in Sissako's cinematography. His interpretation of the films is consistent with much of the already-published work on Sissako and in that regard does not offer much that is surprising. However, that is not the author's purpose. Readers seeking new insights into Sissako's films will not find it here. Tchouaffe is more concerned with Sissako as a filmmaker and his films as tools that can be used by the viewer (specifically the African viewer) to challenge authoritarian and violent political and social actors. Tchouaffe notes the failure of the African state to provide the basic security and resources needed by the people who are governed by it as well as the [End Page 253] collapse of progressive movements that previously provided a vehicle for social change. Into the vacuum has stepped groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria or the Al Qaeda-affiliated group that seized northern Mali in 2012, which provided the backdrop for Sissako's last film, Timbuktu. Ultimately, Tchouaffe explores Sissako's films as an effort to forge a new space for hope and an opportunity for (re)engagement with the world that could point a pathway out of the hopelessness driving many into the arms of misogynistic, authoritarian, and violent groups like the ones mentioned above.
Overall, Tchouaffe's book is a welcome addition to the literature on African cinema and certainly on the impressive body of filmmaking produced by Sissako. The work itself is at times trapped in philosophical jargon that is not edifying. Moreover, the text is not well-edited and could have used a very strong copyeditor to clean up the narrative. At times an identical passage is repeated, sometimes on the same page, which indicates a cut-and-paste not captured by the copyeditor. This is unfortunate because it detracts from a potentially more powerful argument that could be the jumping-off point for future analyses of Sissako's films and the emerging generation of African filmmakers.