“Make me a man again — I’ll pay whatever you want.”
Once El Hadji attempts to consummate his marriage — and finds himself strangely unable to do so — his downward spiral is set in motion. He engages the services of medicine men, and struggles to maintain dignity in the face of impressively widespread social knowledge about his dilemma. It’s clear to El Hadji that his problems aren’t his own, but rather the result of a curse (xala) — and while he believes this curse has been placed by one of his other wives, the cause for blame remains a central mystery of the film. Unfortunately, Sembene’s narrative (based on his own novel) veers off course at times, shifting to lengthy and seemingly inexplicable sequences (later explained) involving a band of disabled men who at one point gather to drink sweetened condensed milk (!); from what I’ve read, this confusion may be the result of drastic editing that was done without Sembene’s consent. In addition — as in all Sembene’s films — the performances by the majority of the actors are decidedly amateurish. Regardless, there’s enough sting and bite in Xala to make it worthy viewing for all film fanatics who are genuinely interested in world cinema.
P.S. It’s strange that the primary poster used to promote this film features unnamed actors who appear only briefly in the film, at a party scene for a few seconds…
P.P.S. Sembene’s other acclaimed film made before the publication of Peary’s book in 1986 — Ceddo (1977), the only Sembene title listed in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die — is strangely missing; I intend to watch it shortly and verify whether it merits inclusion on this website as a Missing Title. Also be sure to check out Sembene’s final film, Moolaade (2004), made before his death in 2007 — it’s most definitely must-see viewing.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: